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Coffin County

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Home Before Dark

In Silent Graves

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Using Profanity in Fiction – when cursing works, and when it doesn't
How To Make A Living Writing Short Fiction – can it be done? Yes.
Book Review: Lord of the Flies – all about Ralph and Piggy and Roger
Who Moved My Cheese? – a short review of this short book
How to comfort someone whose mother or father has died – advice for handling this difficult situation
Coping with unemployment – more practical advice for a difficult situation


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Monday, November 10, 2008

Quadrophenia
by Gary A. Braunbeck

By its musical structure alone, The Who's Quadrophenia opened my eyes and my intellect to the endless possibilities offered by the metaphor; add to that its compelling and challenging narrative structure, and you've got something that, to my mind, qualifies as a masterpiece.

Quadrophenia centers on a young kid in 1960s England named Jimmy. Jimmy comes from a hard-luck, working class family. He wants to be popular among his friends. He also wants to be a good son, a good worker, and a great lover. In the midst of trying to be all things to everyone, he realizes that he presents four very distinctive personalities to the world over the course of his days: the tough guy, the romantic, the crazy fun friend, and the troubled son. All of these separate personalities are represented by a distinct musical theme, and each personality encompasses only one aspect of the real Jimmy; none of them represent who he is in his heart. On top of all this, he's saddled with having a deeper insight into the human spirit than most people think a person of his station is capable. He admits that even he doesn't know who he really is. Being a confused angry young man with rampaging hormones, it doesn't take long before certain aspects of his other personalities start bleeding over into the parts of his life where they don't belong.

There's much, much more to Quadrophenia's story, but that's the spine of it.

This sounds like a ham-fisted cliche, but hearing this album for the first time changed my life. On side 4 of the album there's an instrumental piece called "The Rock" which remains for me one of the most amazing and moving pieces of music -- and that's music, period, not just rock music -- that I've ever heard.

In Tommy, the central character's epiphany is conveyed through words and music; but in Quadrophenia, it is conveyed solely through music. "The Rock" starts off by repeating each of the four themes separately, then, one by one, begins overlapping them until the four themes blend seamlessly into one, creating a fifth, unique, defining theme as Jimmy finally realizes who he really is.

That was a revelation -- ahem ... uh, er ... discovery -- for the 12-year-old me. Pete Townshend and The Who had pulled an incredible musical sleight-of-hand, created a musical Rubik's Cube that I hadn't even realized existed until the puzzle was completed.

I knew then that I wanted to someday create a piece or body of work that did what Pete Townshend had done with Quadrophenia's music; present you with a group of seemingly disparate pieces/themes that in the end converged into a unified whole that was not only rewarding in and of itself (as "The Rock" most definitely is), but also enriched the sum of its parts.

"The Rock" is a perfect metaphor for what we as human beings strive toward during every moment between that first slap on the ass and the last handful of soil tossed on the lid of the coffin; call it the psychological equivalent of string theory or whatever you will: we strive to bring the various Selves together to form the whole that is uniquely 'me' or 'you', all the while treasuring the journey that has led to this time, this breath, this moment.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

There will never be another you
An excerpt from the story "The Sisterhood of Plain-Faced Women" by Gary A. Braunbeck

This is our last dance together,
Tonight soon will be long ago.
And in our moment of parting,
This is all I want you to know...

I remember my mother used to love this one old 1943 Nat King Cole record. It was the only one she owned, as far as I know. She played a song called "There Will Never Be Another You" all the time; it was written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. It was one of the sappiest songs I ever heard. I never understood why she liked it so much. But she loved it.

Our house was always immaculately clean when I was growing up. But give my mom even the simplest task--washing a few dishes or something like that--and she'd take about three times longer to get it done than almost anybody else. I used to think it was just her way of avoiding having to listen to my Dad complain about things, but the older I got, the more I began to notice that she didn't really do anything else with her days. She got up, made breakfast, then set about her tasks.

There will be many other nights like this,
And I'll be standing here with someone new.
There will be other songs to sing,
Another fall...another spring...
But there will never be another you.

I remember she used to have a few shots of whiskey after my dad went to bed, then she'd play that record over and over, until she got this dreamy look on her face, sitting there in her chair and listening to that song and pretending she wasn't who she was. Sometimes I could see it in her face, that wish. She was someone else and the song wasn't on a record, it was being sung to her by some handsome lover come to court her, to ask for her hand and take her away to a better life than the one she had.

There will be other lips that I may kiss,
But they won't thrill me,
Like yours used to do.
Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be another you?

I used to sneak downstairs and watch her do this, and I'd laugh to myself, you know? I'd laugh at her because I knew that my life was going to turn out differently. I'd never be so stupid as to wind up marrying a man who didn't really love me like a husband should but I stayed with him anyway because that's what the Church told me I was supposed to do. I'd never do that.

I'd never spend my days working around the house, doing the dishes and the laundry and the dusting, having no life of my own, no hobbies, no interests. I'd never spend half the afternoon fixing dinner, then half the evening cleaning up afterward, only finding time for myself after everyone went to bed so I could sip my whiskey and play a goddamn record by Nat King Cole about there never being another me.

I mean, I was eight, I was just a kid in grade school, and even though Mom was only thirty-seven she seemed old and used-up and kind of funny at those times.

But now it's twenty-five years later and here I am. I don't know if my husband still loves me; all I've got now is my work. Instead of whiskey and Nat King Cole I have two weak cocktails on Friday night after work and Jane Eyre or well-thumbed collections of poetry or a ton of videotapes, most of them romantic comedies.

She had no real life, except the one she found in her shot of whiskey and listening to that song, and I realized all of this way too late. All she had was this one little dream of some imaginary lover singing a sappy love song to her, and she spent the entire day anticipating it. That's why she took so long to get her work done; looking forward to her fantasy, to this dream she knew in her heart could never be, it was all she really had for herself.

She's gone now, but here I am, just like her.
Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be...
Another you?




Italicized lyrics © 1943 by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Arson Garden
Arson Garden was possibly the best rock band ever to emerge from Bloomington, IN. Their wonderfully fierce, melodic music has drawn comparisons to bands as diverse as Sonic Youth, Television, and Throwing Muses. Their simultaneusly etherial and crunchy sound was marked by excellent songwriting and musicianship.

The group was fronted by siblings April Combs (lead singer) and guitarist/singer James Combs; other members included drummer Joby Barnett, bassist Clark Starr, and guitarist Michael Mann (no known relation to filmmaker Michael Mann).

Their live act was phenomenal and well-reviewed:

"Hypnotic. . . Aggressive. . . This is how music was meant to sound," - Boston Phoenix.

"One of the best indie (independent label) bands in America," - St. Louis Riverfront Times.

Their albums included Under Towers (1990; re-released in 1993 from Vertebrae Records), Wisteria (1992 from Vertebrae Records), Drink a Drink of You (EP, 1992 from Vertebrae Records), and The Belle Stomp (1994 from American Empire Records). I highly recommend Wisteria and The Belle Stomp for those new to the group.

Sadly, the group broke up in 1995. James Combs and April Combs formed a band called Snacktime in Chicago, but that group broke up in 1997. James Combs is now solo and recording on Ubiquity Records (his solo releases include Remoter and Please Come Down).

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Marching band

I was in marching bands from the 7th grade through my sophomore year of college. When I was in high school, we could earn letter jackets for our band activities. The fact that we "band fags" could earn a letter didn't sit well with a lot of the high school athletes. They felt that our letters somehow trivialized theirs.

In graduate school, I got into a debate about this with a guy who had run track in high school. He was of the opinion that students should only earn letter jackets for sports activities. He further felt that competition and physical exertion were the defining qualities of sports.

"Well, in its primary capacity, is a group of people walking and playing musical instruments a sport? Most bands are not formed with the express purpose to compete," he argued.

In my experience as a band member in junior high and high school in Texas, most marching bands are organized with the express purpose to compete, at least at the big schools in that state.

Our whole marching band season was focused on preparing to compete in marching band competitions. Playing at the football games was seen as something we were expected to do for the school, but each halftime performance was mainly important as a run-through for the "real thing": regional marching competion, and if we did well, state competion.

In the competitions, the bands were judged in much the same way that skaters and synchronized swimmers are judged. Our musical performance was maybe 50% of our score -- the rest was based on how complex our routines were, how well we kept our body posture and how well we stayed in step. There were even people who avidly followed the band competitions in much the same way any high school sports fan does.

And it was a very physical activity. We would start daily practice several weeks before school began -- I think we started summer practice at about the same time the football team started meeting. We didn't even do much with our instruments -- the whole goal of the practice was to get into proper physical condition and learn the proper marching drills. And, like the football team, we had a coach (our band director) standing on top of an observation tower screaming "encouragements" at us if we screwed up.

We would practice for an hour and a half after school each day. We got a P.E. credit for each fall semester that we did marching band season, so even the administration recognized the physicality of what we were doing. I knew several kids who dropped out of marching band, not because they couldn't play their instruments, but because they weren't (or felt they weren't) up to the physical demands of the season. And some of the routines our drill majors, rifles and flag corps did were extremely difficult physically.

At no point during marching season was what we were doing viewed as an artistic endeavor -- art was for concert season which, while it was just as competitive, involved a whole different mindset. During marching season, we thought more like jocks (and, yes, some of the more serious musicians among us really resented that, but you weren't allowed in concert band unless you also participated in marching band). We went back to thinking like musicians during concert season.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

CD Review: Serenade for the Dead

Serenade for the Dead is a 1994 instrumental work by industrial/darkwave one-man-band Leaetherstrip represents the fruition of Danish artist Claus Larsen's desire to create a horror movie soundtrack. Lacking a composition offer from a filmmaker, he wrote and performed the ten tracks on this CD and offered it up as the "soundtrack for the movie in your mind". He also did all the artwork for the CD's cover and liner; the main image is that of a nearly-skeletal dead bird.

For those used to Leaetherstrip's usual brutal, hard-driving sound, the moody, melodic work on Serenade is quite a departure (and, based upon some of the reviews I've read around the Web, for some rivetheads it was an unwelcome departure). Larsen mainly uses synthesizers and drum machines on the album, and while it would have benefitted from full orchestration (i.e., real brass and strings) I think it's quite a wonderful album, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys industrial music along with works such as Holst's "Mars, Bringer of War" and the "Hellraiser" soundtrack.

Upon listening to this album, I detected a variety of influences ranging from Christopher Young to Coil to Mike Oldfield to Prokofiev and Stravinsky. My favorite tracks are the title cut, "Black Widow's Kiss", the harsh "The Return of the Evil One", the hypnotic "The Awakening" and the dramatic "The Corridors of Sleep".

Track list:

  1. Serenade for the Dead
  2. Black Widow's Kiss
  3. Stillborn
  4. The return of the evil one
  5. Black Death
  6. New Dark Ages
  7. The corridors of sleep
  8. The Awakening
  9. Blood Lust
  10. Corpus

Interestingly enough, since the album was released, several of the tracks on this album have been picked up for use in various horror movie soundtracks (sadly, though I've wracked my brain, I can't remember the titles of said movies).

Serenade for the Dead is offered by Zoth Ommog records in Europe and by Cleopatra Records in North America.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Lyle Lovett

"Somehow you can tell the difference when a song is written just to get on the radio and when what someone does is their whole life. That comes through in Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson. There is no separating their life from their music."
-- Lyle Lovett

Biography

Lyle Pearce Lovett was born on November 1, 1957 in the North Houston suburb of Klein. He is the only child of Bill and Bernell Lovett, who were both Exxon employees. The town he grew up in was founded by his maternal great-great-grandfather, Adam Klein, who along with the rest of that side of his family was a German immigrant.

Lovett stayed close to both his Texas and German roots throughtout high school in Klein and college at Texas A&M in College Station, TX, which is east of Austin. He spent some time studying in Rothenburg, Germany while he was in college, and in 1982 he graduated with dual degrees in German and journalism.

He was also an avid musician while he was in college. He and friends such as Robert Earl Keen played local gigs with area bands in Texas. While he was in Germany, he met a musician who called himself Buffalo Wayne, and Wayne got him a gig playing a country-western concert in Luxembourg in 1983.

He didn't get his first professional break until after college when he got a gig as a backup singer for Nanci Griffith's first album in 1985. Griffith ended up recording a song he had written, "If I Were The Woman You Wanted" for the album Once In A Very Blue Moon.

His work with Griffith led to a recording contract with MCA/Curb Records, and he released his debut self-titled album in 1986.

Since then, he's won four Grammy Awards, the first for Best Male Vocalist in 1989, the second for his duet with Al Green for "Funny How Time Slips Away" in 1993, and the third for "Blues For Dixie" in 1994. In 1996, his album The Road to Enselada won the Grammy for Best Country Album. He and his Large Band have also earned many critical and fan accolades.

Lovett also began to work as an actor. His first major role was as Detective DeLongpre in Robert Altman's wicked Hollywood black comedy The Player. Since then, he's appeared in about seven other movies, mainly Altman films. (See the listing at the end of this writeup for details).

Possibly because of his work in Hollywood, Lovett met actress Julia Roberts. They married in 1993 and divorced in 1995. Despite Lovett's great music and great talent, his marriage to Roberts earned him far more fame and attention than anything else he'd done.

In 2002, Lovett was injured by a bull at his family's farm near Houston, TX. His uncle was attacked by the animal, and Lovett tried to intervene; he was trampled and suffered a badly broken leg.

Lovett spends much of his time touring with his Large Band or with a smaller ensemble, though he goes back to Texas whenever he can.

Seeing Lovett Live

I saw Lyle Lovett and His Large Band play at the Palace Theater here in Columbus, OH. I went mainly because the friend who took me is a huge fan of his. I'd heard Lovett's work on the radio, and liked it, but I hadn't really sought it out.

After seeing him perform, all I can say is this: wow.

He and his band put on an amazing show. All the members of the band are absolutely top-notch musicians. They'd be as at home playing for a symphony orchestra in any major city as they'd be in a honky-tonk band in a smoky Texas bar. His backup singers had absolutely wonderful voices.

One thing that struck me most is that Lovett doesn't put himself above the band. He had everyone else do solos or numbers to showcase their individual talents, and he took time throughout the concert to introduce the other singers and musicians -- all thirteen of them.

Lovett's self-deprecating between-song chat is really, really funny. He seems like a genuinely decent human being.

Julia Roberts didn't deserve him.

Partial Discography

  • Anthology, Vol. 1: Cowboy Man October 23, 2001
  • Dr. T & The Women (2000 film soundtrack) October 10, 2000
  • Live In Texas June 29, 1999
  • Step Inside This House September 22, 1998
  • The Road To Ensenada June 18, 1996
  • I Love Everybody September 27, 1994
  • Joshua Judges Ruth March 31, 1992
  • Lyle Lovett & His Large Band January 23, 1989
  • Pontiac January 11, 1988
  • Lyle Lovett 1986

Filmography

  • The New Guy (2002) -- Bear
  • Last Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie (2001) (TV) -- Host
  • 3 Days of Rain (2000) -- Disc Jockey
  • Cookie's Fortune (1999) -- Manny Hood
  • The Opposite of Sex (1998) -- Sheriff Carl Tippett
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) -- Road Person
  • Roger Miller Remembered (1998) (TV) -- Himself
  • Breast Men (1997) (TV) -- Research Scientist
  • Bastard Out of Carolina (1996) -- Wade
  • Pret-a-Porter (1994) -- Clint Lammeraux
  • Short Cuts (1993) -- Andy Bitkower
  • Willie Nelson: The Big Six-0 (1993) (TV) -- Himself
  • The Player (1992) -- Detective DeLongpre
  • Bill: On His Own (1983) (TV) -- Singer at the Beach

References:

http://www.lylelovett.net/
http://www.topcountrymusic.com/lyle.htm
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/1192/LyleLovett/
http://www.imdb.com/

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Why you can rent a novel but not a music CD

As a college student, I really came to love used record and book stores. Sometimes I'd find the most amazing books and albums that had been out of print for years. And sometimes, I'd be able to find brand spankin' new stuff that I just couldn't afford at Borders or Tower Records.

Later on, I was still broke but in grad school studying journalism. I started to learn about copyright law. More important, I started to get to know authors who were just as broke as I was but who didn't have a light at the end of their financial tunnel in the form of earning a commercially viable degree. Copyright was more than an abstract concept to them -- article sales and royalties paid their rent and kept food on their table.

Armed with just enough copyright knowledge to keep me out of court for libel and my new insights into the working author's life, I saw used bookstores and CD shops in a whole new light. All these books and albums for sale -- and no money to the publisher! No royalties to the authors! Holy shit!

Was the FBI gonna come busting down the doors of Half Price Books for copyright infringement someday? Because it all certainly seemed like a violation of the spirit of copyright -- the stores were doing a pretty brisk business, and every used copy sold was money that never reached the creator. But still, my author friends visited the used shops just like everybody else did, and for the same reasons: they wanted stuff that was not available elsewhere, or they just couldn't afford to pay for new.

While some big-name musicians like Garth Brooks periodically raised a stink about used CD sales, it seemed that everyone turned a blind eye to the whole thing because cracking down on used bookstores would create far more problems than they'd solve.

As it turns out, selling used books, CDs, movies and software is perfectly legal due to what's known as the "first sale doctrine".

Section 109 of the U.S. Copyright Act codifies this doctrine. Anyone who is a lawful owner of a physical copy of a copyrighted work can do as they please with that physical copy.

They can destroy the copy, paint it pink, put blinkenleits all over it, rent it to somebody, or transfer ownership by giving it away or selling it. They can't, of course, duplicate the copyrighted content or reuse it or sell it in some way -- the first sale doctrine deals with the physical object, not the intellectual expression it contains.

However, when cassette tape players and recorders came along, the U.S. recording industry started to fear for their profits. (Sound familiar? You bet!) So, they put their vast financial resources to work influencing legislators. In 1984 the Record Rental Amendment was passed on the logic that renting out albums made it too easy for people to copy music without paying for it, thus dreadfully harming the RIAA's copyrights.

As a result of that amendment to Section 109, you can't rent an audio CD or tape or phonograph. Due to legal extrapolations of the Record Rental Amendment combined with the fact that software is often set up for licensing rather than sale, you can't rent a piece of software, either ... unless you're talking about a video game, which is not seen by the courts as being software. At any rate, that's why you can't rent the latest Britney Spears opus at Blockbuster along with Fatal Frame for your Playstation.

Fortunately, the RIAA didn't take the step of preventing libraries from lending out music albums, nor have they seriously attempted to stop the sale of used CDs. However, all that could change if they decide that these activities are excessively limiting their profit margins.

The book publishing industry, by contrast, has neither the lobbying power nor the motivation to try to change the laws as they exist.

It's perfectly legal to rent a novel, for instance, but sadly reading just isn't popular enough to support the development of a Bookbusters chain.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Is file sharing theft?
Asking "Is file sharing theft?" is a bit like asking "Is driving a car murder?" (If during the course of a drive you intentionally run somebody down with your car in an effort to kill them and they die, yes, of course it's murder ... but otherwise, no.)

File sharing is, as a general concept, not a problem. It's a perfectly legal thing to do if you either own the materials you're sharing or have the right to share them because they're in the public domain or the owner has granted permission for them to be shared.

The real question is ....

Is file sharing other peoples' intellectual property theft?

Now we're getting down to business!

What is theft?

Theft, all by itself, is a general term that is not given a technical legal definition at the federal level in the U.S. (some states do define it; others don't). It's often used synonymously with larceny (which is defined technically, which we'll get to in a minute).

The 'Lectric Law Library Lexicon defines theft as commonly meaning to secretly and dishonestly take someone else's property (in other words, steal it) for the sake of money (either to sell the property or to simply avoid paying for it). It further defines theft-bote as being the crime of knowingly receiving stolen property from a thief.

Thus, both stealing an item and receiving stolen items can be considered forms of theft under those definitions.

The Oxford Dictionary of Law (which covers British law, which is similar but by no means identical to U.S. law) defines "theft" as "The dishonest appropriation of property belonging to someone else with the intention of keeping it permanently."

Criminologist Thomas O'Connor states that "all modern theft laws have their origins in the ancient law of larceny."

He further says that:

Larceny is the wrongful taking and carrying away of personal property which is in the possession of another with the intent to convert it or permanently deprive the owner thereof.

Okay, so what's larceny? And what has it got to do with filesharing?

According to O'Connor and other sources, classic criminal larceny involves:

  1. Wrongfully taking something from someone else (stealing) To do this you have to have control over the object -- but it doesn't have to be actual physical control. You can claim that a book on a shelf is yours and sell it to someone else. When the person walks off with the book they think they've legitimately purchased, they have not committed larceny, but you have. When an item has been taken for personal use, a common defense is to claim that the person was only "borrowing" the item and intended to return it. In that case, it's up to the court to decide whether the evidence surrounding the incident indicates an intent to steal or a real, honest intent to return the item.
    • The act of ripping and making a copyrighted MP3 available for upload has been seen by the courts as wrongfully taking control of an intellectual property. Once other anonymous users have downloaded copies, there's no feasible way to "give it back" to the rightful owner. On the downloading side, however, a user who downloads an illegal copy, tries it out, and then deletes that copy could arguably be seen as just having "borrowed" it.

  2. Taking the item away from the place it was stolen (asportation) There's a lot of variance in how this is interpreted. For instance, in some states, a person can be convicted of shoplifting if they are observed taking and sequestering an item but abandon it in the store before they are apprehended. Theft laws also cover people who can't really asportate anything in a legal sense, such as a parking lot attendant who is given a customer's keys and then goes for an extended joyride in the car.
    • Transferring a file to a fileshare server certainly seems to fulfill the broad asportation criteria, as does downloading it.

  3. The stolen item being personal property. According to modern laws, personal property can be real property (land, houses, etc.), tangible property (moveable things like cars), services, information, intellectual property, and even contraband. Under the vast majority of legal systems, the value of the item determines whether the act of stealing it is considered a misdemeanor, felony, or civil matter.
    • Courts have well and thoroughly upheld that reproduction rights to things like songs and stories and art are valid intellectual properties. Thus, the extent of the financial damage to the holder of the copyright determines whether or not the case would be pursued as a felony, misdemeanor, or civil action.

  4. The item being in the posession of the thief. Most laws require the owner of the item to prove that it was taken without their consent, that they can identify the object as being theirs, and that they did not abandon the item (thus creating a situation in which a reasonable person might think the property was free to whomever wanted to take it).
    • If you've made an illegal copy of an intellectual property and make it available for upload, you are quite obviously in possession of it. However, you might be excused if you legitimately thought the intellectual property was abandoned (for instance, because it was out of print) or in the public domain due to a lack of a copyright statement.

  5. Taking the item with the intent to sell it, gain a reward for its return, or to permanently deprive the owner of it. The "permanent deprivation" part is a little complicated. Courts have ruled that cases like taking a car temporarily for joyriding constitute larceny. Why? The item has been taken recklessly without permission, and the owner stands a strong chance of suffering some kind of financial loss due to the item being damaged while in the thief's control. So, even if the thief always intended to return the item, the risk of permanent loss to the owner makes it larceny.

    In other words, larceny (theft) either permanently deprives or has a strong risk of permanently depriving the rightful owner of money.

As I mentioned previously, some U.S. state laws explicitly define theft. For instance, the Ohio Revised Code defines theft thusly:

2913.02. Theft.

(A) No person, with purpose to deprive the owner of property or services, shall knowingly obtain or exert control over either the property or services in any of the following ways:

(1) Without the consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent;

(2) Beyond the scope of the express or implied consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent;

(3) By deception;

(4) By threat;

(5) By intimidation.

(B) (1) Whoever violates this section is guilty of theft.

Ohio law further classes the following larcenous crimes as being forms of theft, several of which apply to file sharing:

  • 2913.03. Unauthorized use of a vehicle.
  • 2913.04. Unauthorized use of property; computer, cable, or telecommunication property or service.
  • 2913.041. Possession or sale of unauthorized cable television device.
  • 2913.06. Unlawful use of telecommunications device.
  • 2913.07. Motion picture piracy.

But wait! My filesharing isn't depriving the owner of anything! They can still do what they want with it!

Or, as a pro-filesharing user wrote in an online journal: "Steal an idea, they still have their idea, but now you have it too."

Not so fast, pilgrim.

First of all, we're not talking about ideas -- ideas can't be copyrighted. Art and stories and songs contain ideas, convey ideas, but they are not in and of themselves ideas.

Arguing that it's okay to trade a song because it's just an idea is like saying it's okay to sell a human being because we're just nitrogen (hey, humans contain nitrogen, and they give off nitrogen, so they're nitrogen, right?).

Second, refer to the part in #5 above about the larcenous nature of taking a car for joyriding. Now, think about identity theft, a well-recognized but very new form of theft.

If someone commits identity theft against me, I still have my actual identity. My face and fingerprints are still on my person. My friends and employer still recognize me.

I still have my identity, and now somebody else has it too ... and they're racking up credit card bills in my name. It's going to cost me a lot of time and money (because, after all, time is money) to get it all stopped.

Even if the identity thief figures her actions are harmless because the credit card companies will surely forgive my debt once they figure out I couldn't have made the purchases -- it's still theft because it's depriving me of money.

So, yeah, in the end it's all about money. And most writers, musicians, and artists stand to make money in royalties off sales of individual copies of their work, so every copy that gets downloaded off a filesharing server represents a potentially lost sale. Furthermore, a work's resale value may be diminished; publishers release work they expect to profit from, and if they see that the work is rampantly available via filesharing and people are getting it for free, they may question the profit in re-releasing the work.

The actual ramifications of lost sales from filesharing are hard to determine, of course. Some quantity of people who download a PDF or MP3 or EXE probably never would have purchased a legitimate copy of the property in a store; either they really were too damn broke, or they just weren't interested enough to buy but were curious enough to download. But many people fileshare because it's free and convenient, and presumably they do represent lost royalties to the creator.

However, just because the financial loss from a theft is miniscule doesn't mean it's not a theft. If I pocket a 5-cent piece of bubblegum in a candy store, the store owner may never even realize the gum is gone. But I still stole it, and I can't argue otherwise. Even though my theft is trivial, I am still a thief.

Making unauthorized copies of a protected intellectual property such as a song, book, or game available on a filesharing server is arguably a form of theft theft because it conforms to the U.S. legal requirements of larceny. No breaking and entering or forcible boarding need be involved to become a thief.

(Congress could of course pass a law at any time explicitly excluding filesharing copyright violations from being considered larceny in any way, and in that case illegal filesharing might be a form of theft in a moral sense but not in a commonlaw sense. Laws are set in paper rather than stone and are constantly being renegotiated and changed. That's why the world has so many lawyers.)


The Morality of Filesharing (or, Legal, schmegal, filesharing isn't wrong, and you can't make me believe otherwise!)

We are all ultimately responsible for the ethical decisions we make. Hundreds of teeny-tiny little events that are technically crimes go on all the time, unnoticed amongst the great raw screaming chunks of misery that represent larger crimes like armed robbery, rape and murder.

Circumstances can make almost any crime an unfortunate necessity or even a moral good. If I have no money, and my child is starving, I will steal milk for her if I have to, because the needs of my child outweigh my need to be a law-abiding citizen and not harm the store owner.

If I must learn Filemaker Pro to get a job I desperately need and simply haven't the money for a legitimate copy, I will download it and feel bad later when I've got the job.

There's a moral allowance for genuine human need.

There's also a moral legitimacy for filesharing in the name of civil disobedience in some cases. Copyright laws are supposed to balance the public good of being able to freely access and obtain artistic and intellectual materials with the creator's right to control those materials. A strong argument can be made that current laws have gone well past protecting creators -- and in some instances completely fail to protect creators -- and instead offer an unreasonably long corporate monopoly on intellectual property.

For instance, current laws have created a situation in which many musicians end up signing all their rights over to a music company in exchange for releasing their work. The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act is widely seen as a move pandering to Disney and other corporations that violates the spirit of the original laws. And many feel that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act is bad lawmaking on several counts.

There are quite a lot of materials out there that, while technically copyrighted, have been functionally abandoned. The creators are dead or no longer have rights to their own work, the work is out of print, and the copyright is owned by a corporation that is indifferent to making the work available for sale at a reasonable price.

In such cases, file sharing functionally abandoned materials arguably does provide a benefit to the public and also is defendable under the 4th clause of the larceny rules above.

There's also a moral allowance for using filesharing to obtain digital copies of work you already purchased in a hardcopy or analog format. There's even a borderline slippery-slope argument with some ethical (but no legal) grounding that it's okay to download copies of cable channel TV shows if you subscribed to those channels when the episodes aired. In both those instances, you could have made copies of the materials for personal "backup" use (which is a legitimate thing to do) but the person who has helpfully uploaded the materials is still violating the law. It's an imperfect world.

But there isn't really any moral allowance for simply wanting to have something without paying for it.

Songs and art and books don't grow on trees ... although seeing them everywhere might lead you to believe that they do.

Most people see the glitz and glamorous lifestyles of the latest vapid pop sensation, or hear about the millions of dollars Stephen King just donated to a charity, and they blithely think that all artists, musicians, and writers make plenty of money and a little filesharing surely isn't going to hurt. Besides, hey, they're getting exposure to new people, and they should feel flattered that people think their stuff is worth stealing.

The reality is that most writers, artists, and musicians work hard and don't get a lot of money for what they do. The flattery of seeing one's work on a filesharing server rubs off very quickly if one doesn't have enough money to pay the electric bill that month.

The reality is that artists, writers, and musicians have to pay their bills just like everyone else. They need money to survive -- it's a rare landlord or utility company that will take books and CDs in trade.

Most people create art, music, or stories because they need to express themselves. And for most creators, the whole point of being able to make a living off their creative endeavors is to enable them to keep creating. If they have to take another job to make their bills, the time spent at their day job is time and energy that can't be put to creating new songs or stories or pictures.

Thus, if professional artists, writers, and musicians are unable to make enough money off their work to live on -- they will produce less and less creative work. If Stephen King hadn't been able to make a living with his writing, he'd have had to keep being a low-paid, overworked teacher. We'd have gotten Carrie, certainly, and probably The Shining and maybe even The Stand. But what about later, more sophisticated work like The Green Mile and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon? Those very well might not exist.

In the end, the deprivation caused by mass filesharing might really end up being manifested as less and less quality entertainment available to consumers.

If you think books and songs and movies are overpriced, visit your local library (they might even buy new items they don't carry you if you and your friends request the materials), or buy used copies. And remember, you and like-minded friends can always try making your own for each other.

Hey! What about libraries? How come they get to exist?

Public libraries are run on a combination of tax-derived funding and donations. Their mission is to make books (and to a lesser extent audio and video works) available to everyone in their community.

Every book you find in a library has been legitimately purchased or donated by someone else who bought the book. In short, every copy represents a sale and thus money to the copyright holder. The First Sale Doctrine makes it perfectly legal to lend out a legitimate physical copy of a book, movie, or CD. When a book circulates, it goes out to one person who borrows it for individual or family reading, keeps it for a few weeks, and returns it. The book keeps circulating on this kind of individual basis until it is too worn to lend; then it is replaced with another paid-for book or sold in a booksale fundraiser. A popular library book might be read by 25 people in a year.

Contrast this with illegal fileshared copies of the book. I have seen books posted on IRC that haven't yet gone to press -- in short, somebody with access to the publishing company uploaded an illegal copy. Thus, the shared file doesn't represent a sale at all. And in the case of a person uploading a copy of a legitimately-purchased electronic book, the First Sale Doctrine does not apply because the intellectual content has been duplicated without permission.

A popular prerelease book might be downloaded by 25 people in just a few hours. And once those hundreds of people have downloaded the PDF -- what incentive do they have to actually buy the book, even if they enjoyed it and would have otherwise bought it? Very little, unless they understand the hard work the writer and publisher put into making the book. The sheer numbers make permanent financial losses a very real possibility.

But, as Voltaire said, "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."

Do as your conscience guides you. Just don't be confused or in denial about what you're doing.


References

  • A conversation with OSU law professor Sheldon W. Halpern
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Law
  • 'Lectric Law Library Lexicon entry at http://www.lectlaw.com/def2/t085.htm
  • Anderson's Online Revised Code at http://onlinedocs.andersonpublishing.com/
  • Theft Law: crimes Against Property & Hybrid Crimes by Thomas R. O'Connor at http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/293/293lect11.htm


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Sunday, January 20, 2002

John Mellencamp

The Rock Star

Singer/songwriter John Mellencamp was born on October 7, 1951 in Seymour, Indiana. After a brief stint as a glam rocker, Mellencamp was signed up for a recording deal with MainMan in 1976. The deal, which was brokered by David Bowie's manager Tony de Fries, involved Mellencamp switching to the stage name "Johnny Cougar" and adopting a James Dean style image. When the record (mostly of covers of other people's work) didn't sell, he moved back to Indiana and signed with Riva Records, which touted him as "the next Bruce Springsteen."

In 1979, Johnny Cougar scored his first Top Thirty hit with the song "I Need A Lover". The hits kept coming with his 1982 album American Fool, which included his signature songs "Hurts So Good" and "Jack and Diane". American Fool sold over 5 million copies.

Seeking to get back to the man he truly was, he started using the stage name "John Cougar Mellencamp" in 1983, and he dropped the "Cougar" entirely in 1989. However, in recognition of the ornery side of his personality, for some later albums he used the nickname "Little Bastard" for his songwriting and production credits.

Mellencamp had a string of straight-ahead rock hits throughout the 80s, and in the 90s he got more into acoustic and roots music.

In 1994, soon after releasing Dance Naked, he suffered a life-changing heart attack which made him give up much of his unhealthy rock star lifestyle. However, he recovered and has been musically strong ever since. His first album after his recovery was 1996's Mr Happy Go Lucky. His self-titled 1998 album garnered him some of the best reviews of his career.

In 2000, he began collaborating with Stephen King to create a ghost story stage musical. This project has been delayed somewhat by King's recovery from being hit by the van.

Livin' In A Small Town

Mellencamp spends a lot of time in Seymour, which is close to Bloomington, Indiana. If you live in Bloomington or spend a few years at Indiana University, you will at some point see Mr. Mellencamp, most likely when he decides to take his motorcycle for a spin around Bloominton's downtown some Friday or Saturday night.

He also regularly shops in Bloomington grocery stores, particularly Mr. D's. Around 1994, one of my former housemates spotted him there one early Sunday morning. As she came back into our apartment with her groceries, she said:

"Oh. My. God. I was in the canned foods aisle, and there was this old scruffy bum in there looking at the green beans. He was wearing this ratty overcoat, and he was wearing running shorts with these white tube socks pulled up to his knees. And then this beautiful blonde model-looking woman walks up and gives him a kiss, and I realized it was John Cougar Mellencamp!"

This was likely during the time that he was recovering from his heart attack, so impressing the townies with his sense of style was probably not high on his list of priorities.

In the late '90s, he took a major step in preserving his legacy in Bloomington and at IU. He donated $1.5 million dollars toward the construction of an indoor athletic facility on the IU campus. The 100,000 square foot John Mellencamp Pavilion opened in the 1996-97 school year to provide playing space for football, baseball, softball, soccer and other varsity sports.

Discography

  • Cuttin' Heads - 2001
  • Rough Harvest - 1999
  • John Mellencamp - 1998
  • The Best That I Could Do - 1997
  • Mr. Happy Go Lucky - 1996
  • Dance Naked - 1994
  • Human Wheels - 1993
  • Falling From Grace Soundtrack - 1992
  • Whenever We Wanted - 1991
  • Big Daddy - 1989
  • The Lonesome Jubilee - 1987
  • Scarecrow - 1985
  • Uh-huh - 1983
  • American Fool - 1982
  • Nothin' Matters and What if It Did - 1980
  • John Cougar - 1979
  • A Biography - 1978
  • U.S. Male - 1978
  • The Kid Inside - 1977
  • Chestnut Street Incident - 1976

Selected Singles

  • "I Need A Lover" - 1979
  • "Ain't Even Done With The Night" - 1980
  • "This Time" - 1980
  • "Jack and Diane" - 1982
  • "Hurt So Good" - 1982
  • "Hand To Hold On To" - 1982
  • "Crumblin' Down" - 1983
  • "Pink Houses" - 1984
  • "Authority Song" - 1984
  • "Lonely Ol' Night" - 1985
  • "Small Town" - 1985
  • "R.O.C.K. In The USA" - 1986
  • "Rain On The Scarecrow" - 1986
  • "Rumbleseat" - 1986
  • "Paper In Fire" - 1987
  • "Cherry Bomb" - 1987
  • "Check It Out" - 1988
  • "Pop Singer" - 1989
  • "Get A Leg Up" - 1991
  • "Again Tonight" - 1992
  • "Wild Night" - 1994
  • "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)" - 1996

Some information was gleaned from http://www.mtv.com/bands/az/mellencamp_john/bio.jhtml and http://www.mellencamp.com/

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Monday, November 12, 2001

Lollapalooza
I was fortunate enough to go to the very first Lollapalooza back in 1991. I and my friend Eric made the 5-hour drive from San Angelo to catch the August 23rd concert at the Starplex Amphitheater in Dallas, TX. I forget how much tickets cost us, but whatever they were -- it was worth it.

We got in line, where we waited for about an hour. Seeing as I had about as much of a tan as the scattered goths who'd braved the sunlight to see the bands before Siouxsie and the Banshees, I slathered SPF 15 on all my exposed parts. Unfortunately, I missed a spot, and the next day it would look and feel like it got scorched with a curling iron.

Waiting in line was like being at a carnival-- every subculture imaginable was out in force. Some hippies were towards the front of the line, dressed in tie-dyes and earth tones and ripped up denim, sitting in a circle. One of them was playing a guitar, and the others were singing along and passing around a bottle of wine. A cute, dark-haired girl was passing out Rock The Vote postcards so that we could show our support to a state bill that would automatically register people to vote when they apply for or renew their driver's license. Later, a tall blonde woman with a dark tan came down the line selling copies of an underground Dallas 'zine. Two dressed-to-the-nines goth girls slowly patrolled the line, looking for friends.

They let us into the arena area an hour before the show was supposed to start (although it would be two hours before it actually did start.) When you first go inside, there's an open area with concessions and room for booths and such that runs along the side of the amphitheater. Most importantly, they had three shower heads set up in a wooden frame, and people were constantly lined up to get soaked down. The amphitheater itself has blue plastic pull-down seats in front of the stage for about a hundred yards, and the seat sections are enclosed except for the back. The back open up onto a grassy, sloping lawn that continues for another hundred yards or so to the back wall. The tickets I had managed to get were for the lawn area, where you can't really see a damn thing unless you got binoculars. So Eric and I went a little bit up on the lawn, sat down and people-watched while we waited for the first band.

It was very hot out there, at least 97 degrees and high humidity, which explains why I didn't see anybody wearing chainmail. People started taking their shirts off. I think about 10% of all the women there were running around in bras. Some of them were wearing half-cups or lace bras, so they were essentially topless. Eric, naturally, was agog and adrool.

Despite the heat, the concert atmosphere was great. Eric described it as a "family atmosphere." Everybody was in a good mood, no bullies or belligerent drunks. No hassling or shoving or pushing.

We sat there in the sun for two hours listening to the music they were blaring over the speaker system (selections such as "Highway to Hell", "London Calling", and "Some People Gotta Dance, I Gotta Kill"-- Muzak for the alternative crowd.) Then the Rollins Band came out. I didn't really know what to expect of them, since I hadn't really heard much of them before the concert. Rollins was wearing his standard Lollapalooza concert uniform of a pair of black shorts and some black basketball shoes-- he was hard to see, since he spent most of the time doubled over, screaming into the microphone. By the time they tore into their second song, a few people had started moshing and slam dancing up on the lawn beside the wall, and by the time the song was finished there were at least fifty people running around in a big circle, moshing and slamming. A few of the members of the Butthole Surfers came out late in the Rollins set and began to jam with the band.

There was always a 30-40 minute break in between bands while roadies moved equipment around for the second band, the Butthole Surfers. Eric and I had determined that nobody was closely watching who was sitting where, so we went down into the good covered seats. For most of the Surfer's set, we just stood along the wall, scoping out the seats. The acoustics were very bad where we were, so I can't accurately comment on the Surfer's playing ability. Their bassist would periodically pick up a rifle and fire blanks into the air. Their lead singer broke a glass bottle over his own head. Accidentally, I think, since he had been drinking from it & tossed it up into the air when he was done.

The third performer was Ice-T and his backup band, Body Count. I wasn't exactly keen on Ice-T, but Eric wanted to see him. During the intermission before Ice-T came on, we managed to get seats that were pretty far down, and we had a good view of the stage. At first, he only did raps to a synthesized track. I didn't much care for the raps, but there were plenty of white suburban kids down in the pit pumping their fists to the music. He stopped in between raps to explain that he doesn't hate women, he just wants to fuck us. Uh-huh. But I have to say this: Ice-T has incredible charisma, and his stage presence is absolutely awesome. Anyway, for the second half of his set he had his live band, and they did heavy metal numbers.

Then Henry Rollins came out, and he and Ice-T did a thrash version of "Fuck tha' Police." The crowd was in a frenzy. The funny thing was, while everybody was chanting the chorus of the rap, I could see a young, black, female police officer leaning against the wall just outside the amphitheater. She had this smile on her face that said, "Why me? How do I get into these things?"

After Ice-T was done, Eric and I moved into one of the more central sections that had better acoustics, but it wasn't as close. We could still see the stage pretty well, though. The Violent Femmes came out next, and we had to stay where we were for the rest of the concert because they began posting ticket checkers at the entrances to the sections. The Femmes were terrific. They played some of my most favoritest songs, such as "Old Mother Reagan", "Country Death Song", and an extended version of "Add it Up". In the middle of it all, they played a deadly-straight Christian gospel song ("Jesus Will Carry Me Across the Ocean"?)

Then Living Colour came out. They played wonderfully, and it was obvious that they were really putting their hearts into the music, but the sound was kinda messed up. Whoever was running the speakers had the sound way, way too loud; I though my teeth would shake loose. Corey Glover, their lead singer, was wearing a rubber and lycra wetsuit. In the middle of the set, the other musicians had to switch instruments or something, and Glover stayed onstage to do an a cappella version of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Sounds cheesy, but let me tell you, it was gorgeous. That man has a great voice, and he has a surprisingly good range. Later, when the whole band was back, Glover jumped off the stage in the middle of a song and sang into his cordless mike as he ran down the aisle. He continued out onto the sidewalk that borders the juncture between the seats and the lawn and ran around the inner perimeter of the amphitheater. The crowd went nuts. Living Colour played longer and harder than anybody else-- too bad the sound guys fucked up the volume.

After a long intermission, Siouxsie and the Banshees came out, right around sundown. They were the first band to have a light show. Their set was pretty interesting-- the backdrop was a stylized "Kama Sutra" type graphic done in neon lights an Indian couple having sex, the woman on top. Siouxsie was dressed in a black sleeveless bodysuit, black jacket and a black, fringy belly dancer type skirt. Her guitarist was doing the Mad Hatter look-- green suit and a red top hat. Steve Severin, her bassist, was wearing a really sharp blue-gray tails tuxedo. Budgie the drummer was wearing a gold head rag, heavily embroidered gold jacket, and tan harem pants. They also had a keyboardist/accordionist/cellist and an Indian guy who was doing auxiliary percussion.

As far as I'm concerned, the Banshees set was the climax of the whole evening. They started off with a relatively laid-back song called "The Last Beat of My Heart," which made a cool opener. The crowd had been sitting around for over half an hour waiting for the roadies to get everything set up, so we didn't get cranked up and excited just right away, and Siouxsie got the teensiest bit annoyed. Evidently, Lollapalooza had played there the day before to only ten thousand people-- pretty pitiful, since the day I went there were well over twenty thousand. Anyway, in between the first and second songs Sioux intoned in a mockingly bored, very British voice, "Don't sit down, you're not watching television. . . couch potatoes!"

After that, the band cranked into some of their faster stuff, and the crowd went into action. The moshers got started again back on the lawn. After the moshing began, some other people on the lawn began to throw their plastic concessions cups into the air, and soon everybody in the amphitheater was throwing them. It was really neat looking, with all the cups arcing up, some spewing out ice and liquid in fans that glittered in the lights from the stage. I was standing in my chair, and I kept hearing them whiffle past my ear.

And then it really started. By the fourth song, there were many circles of moshers up on the grass, and they began to start bonfires. They started burning any damn thing that would ignite, mostly clothing, by the smell of it. I counted five or six bonfires, and a few of them were pretty big. They were sending up these columns of smoke, and the air was thick with it. The moshers were running and dancing around the bonfires in a circle, and periodically one of them would run through or jump over the flames.

At the end of the sixth song, the stage had collected several cups, so two roadies had to run out to clear them off. I don't think people were really throwing the cups at the stage; they were just throwing them, and cups not being especially aerodynamic, they ended up anywhere. While the cups were being picked up, Siouxsie Sioux muttered into the mike, "Good Lord, calm down."

The Banshees played a really sharp, clean set, and many of my favorite songs got played. Eric Avery, the bassist for Jane's Addiction, came out to play with them on "Kiss Them For Me." Steve Severin is a better bassist than I gave him credit for. Siouxsie's voice was good, too, as good as it is on her most recent albums. They also played a Butthole Surfers song, which of course didn't sound much like the Surfers after the Banshees were done with it. After the set ended, the crowd chanted "Sioux-sie!" and stomped on the chairs 'till they came back for an encore.

After another lengthy intermission, Jane's Addiction played. JA had the best sound, no doubt due to careful attention by the techs. They also had palm trees, giant puppets, dry ice smoke, and films that were projected onto the backdrop during some songs. Perry Farrell, JA's frontman, performed a duet of "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" (written by Sly and the Family Stone) with Ice-T (thanks go out to QXZ for helping me remember the name of the song). On "Nothing's Shocking," two busty, nearly naked blondes came out on stage and did a variety of simulated acts on each other and on Farrell. I really could have done without it. It was hard for me to see much of anything going on, since a diehard JA fan was standing on the arms of his chair right in front of me, and he was a very poor window. I did see a fan jump up to do some stage diving, but the guitarist ran up and shoved him off. JA played well, but their set was just a little too theatrical for me.

All in all, it was a really amazing festival; I dreamed the music I heard there every night for a solid week afterward.

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I'm Lucy Snyder. I'm a Worthington, Ohio author and former magazine editor; on this site you'll find my writing as well as features from my husband, novelist Gary A. Braunbeck.

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