Author Archives: Edward Stafford

Alchemists of Sound

This documentary on the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is the best hour of Internet I’ve consumed in ages.  It is absolutely wonderful.

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Kony Kids, Mike Daisey, And The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Chic Kony Youth infographical photoshop by Edward Stafford with all due apologies to Sonic Youth and Raymond Pettibon.

Every now and then, I just have to sort of turn off the Internets and remind myself that there is a world around me that I am not powerless against and where my actions do make a difference.  Usually these actions involve making sure my son doesn’t break a limb or paint the floor silver.  This past week, it’s meant dropping out to finish some gratifying crafty projects and spending time with people who have become very dear to me.  I enjoy dropping out and venturing into the real world.  I used to think it was so much worse than the virtual world that springs into existence when I hit the Safari or Firefox icons.  But lately, that virtual world has become the bigger drag.

In the last week, a confluence of media clusterfuckery wafted across the binary landscape like that scary fucking dust storm that swept across Australia.  Or was it Arizona?  First, there was the Kony 2012 bear trap that Paul documented here.  I can’t add anything useful that hasn’t already been screamed across the Tweetisphere or Facebookistan.  Between everyone trying to tell me what I should think– or worse yet, how I should feel about it– I have to admit that I really just don’t fucking care.

There’s a term for this — Compassion Fatigue.  There is just so much of a shit one person can give.  Yes, what Joseph Kony is responsible for is reprehensible.  Yes, something should be done about it.  And yes, it’s a good thing that people are being made aware of it.  But I honestly believe that Invisible Children made things worse.  It’s the same problem that arose over the weekend with this douche nozzle:

Mike Daisey: pathological liar dirtbag infographical photoblop by Edward Stafford with apologies to all the 13-year-old girls who don't really work at Foxconn

I’m a big fan of This American Life.  I love Ira Glass and have a deep appreciation for the magic he and the crew bring to the radio box every week.  So I was stunned to hear this weekend’s show, “Retraction,” which is basically an hour long apology and serious look at how one of their most popular shows, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” was mostly a fabrication.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s basically an hour-long exposé of the shitty working conditions at Foxconn, the Chinese superfactory where many computer companies, including Apple, have their ideas turned into reality.  As you might imagine, the shitty conditions at the Chinese superfactory are pretty fucking shitty.  Like, way worse than working at Wal Mart or Starbucks.  This particular episode of This American Life was based on Mike Daisey’s one-man play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which was supposed to be based on his reporting done in China while he posed as a fatcat businessman, which I imagine he pulls off convincingly.  The problem is, well, he just made a bunch of shit up.

Which is fine.  I’m a big fan of making shit up.  But I don’t try to pass it off as the truth.  There needs to be a disclaimer, like when you go to the movies and it says something like “this film is based on actual events.”  You know it’s been cooked a bit for dramatic effect and it’s okay because the filmmakers gave you a knowing wink.  I understand that maybe Daisey thought that because it was This American Life, he could get away with not telling the whole truth and call it creative license and claim the high ground because he brought these deplorable conditions to the attention of millions of people.

Which brings us back to the Kony Kids and what they have in common with fellow numbskull, Mike Daisey.  There’s a danger in playing this game where you insert yourself into the story.  When it’s your story, you embellish, embroider, and embiggen.  It’s hardwired into our DNA.  When the story is about something particularly heinous, like Joseph Kony or the terrible conditions at Foxconn, isn’t it enough that the story is terrible?  Why the need to make it more terrible through exaggeration, misstatement of fact, or not being upfront with your reasons for bringing the story to light?  It’s pretty obvious that the purveyors of both of these stories are attention whores and it’s maddening that the media doesn’t call them out on it.

But the worst thing is that, just like that other famous attention whore, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, these guys ultimately do more harm than good and end up as dinner for the wolf.  Wolf Blitzer.  The important stories they try to bring to light become secondary to the rise and fall of the hero.  Daisey and the Kony Kids  become the story, the media looks at their belly buttons and wonders how the fuck they got duped, and everyone forgets about Foxconn and Kony because it was all just made up, right?

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Bowie Falls To Earth On “Nite Flights”

Whenever I talk about David Bowie, the observation that Bowie is “a god among men” usually follows within the first two sentences.  But a couple of things in the past few weeks have forced me to re-examine this nugget conventional pop-culture-meets-counter-culture wisdom.  The first instance came when I re-watched Labyrinth with my son two weeks ago.   I loved it when it came out, but unlike the Bowie himself, the film has not aged well.  At all.

The second instance came while I was perusing the youtubes for any Walker Brothers footage circa their 1978 album, Nite Flights.  I found none, but I did find the above video for David Bowie’s cover version of the title track.  It’s no secret that Bowie has long admired– some may say imitated– Scott Walker’s vocal style.  But he somehow manages to drain all the life out of the song.  It’s so bad he nearly falls asleep at the keyboard.  Let’s not even talk about the people moving the lights around for super special shadow effects.  It’s just bad, bad, bad.

Here is the original for comparison:

Nite Flights is not the best Walker Brothers album, but it’s certainly the weirdest.  The band had split up in 1968 only to reform in 1975. In the intervening years, Scott Walker recorded several solo albums, including his masterpiece,  Scott 3.  If you stop to think about just how drastically pop music changed between 1968 and 1978, it’s easy to see why Nite Flights is so different from the early Walker Brothers albums.  It’s even very different from their other two post-reunion records.  But if you listen to Nite Flights in the context of what was popular in 1978, it sounds remarkably ahead of its time.

The Walker Brothers and some dude in a psychedelic tangerine jumpsuit circa 1967.

While the Walker Brothers were crafting their hit-and-miss  album, David Bowie was a year into his staggeringly awesome Berlin Trilogy.

Few things will affirm that Bowie is indeed a god among men like listening to LowLodger, or “Heroes”.  But let’s jump forward another decade to the aforementioned Labyrinth and accompanying Never Let Me Down LP.  I bought it went it came out and count myself fortunate to have seen the Glass Spider Tour, but I never fell in love with the album.  Bowie himself was displeased with the effort, even though it was his best-selling record up to that time.  In fact, it was this album and tour that drove him insane enough to start the ill-fated Tin Machine.  I saw Tin Machine on tour and remember thinking that this was a band nobody would buy tickets to see if it wasn’t for the fact the singer was a god among men.

Now, fast forward a decade on from Nite Flights and what do we have?  Scott Walker’s output has slowed to the agonizing crawl that would come to define his work in the last 30 years.  Since 1984, Walker has released one album every 11 years.  And with each album, he goes further and further out, pushing boundaries and making what can only be called art.  In the same span of time, Bowie has recorded 10 albums (including the two Tin Machine LPs) none of which are worthy of even lesser deity status.

To put a point on it, in the last 10 years, David Bowie has done this:

While Scott Walker has done this:

I know which one I’d rather listen to now and it will probably be as interesting and challenging in another 10 years.  The other will not.  If you haven’t seen the documentary about Scott Walker, 30 Century Man, do so.  It is streaming on Netflix.  In the meantime, this BBC interview from a few years back will catch you up with what he’s all about.

If past is precedent, the Next Scott Walker album will be out sometime in 2017.

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Soviet Spaceships

I really like the concept art for these alternate-history Soviet Union spaceships made for Dawn of Victory,  a mod in the works for the video game, Sins of a Solar Empire.  I had  never heard of it before now, but looking at some of the gameplay videos makes me wish I was 15 and had piles of homework to ignore while I waged war across the galaxy.

The mod looks like it will be an epic Soviets against Germans battle for intergalactic supremacy.  The concept art for the German ships is not up yet, but I can’t wait to see it.

I found these images while trawling the amazing Concept Ships blog.  It’s been an incredibly inspiring resource for ideas as I ponder my next scratch-built spaceship.  But beyond that, there is some amazing artwork over there as well.

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R.I.P. Ralph McQuarrie

Concept art for The Empire Strikes Back by Ralph McQuarrie

Ralph McQuarrie was not a household name, yet the characters and creations he conceptualized are seared into the consciousness of generations of Earthlings.  You don’t have to be a science fiction fan at all to know and love R2-D2, C-3PO, Yoda, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett.  I challenge you to find a male between the ages of 8 and 48 who doesn’t want to do the Kessel Run in the Millennium Falcon in less than 10 parsecs. It was McQuarrie’s art that brought all of those characters into our lives– and yes, I would argue the Millennium Falcon is a character.  So it is with a heavy heart that I report the news of Ralph McQuarrie’s passing today at the age of 82.

McQuarrie's concept art for the Millennium Falcon.

Without the vision of McQuarrie, it’s impossible to say what the original Star Wars trilogy would have looked like.  Though since he didn’t work on the second trilogy, I think it’s safe to say things probably would have been a whole lot different.  George Lucas usually gets the credit for bringing the Star Wars universe to life, but it was McQuarrie’s blueprints, sketches, concept art, and ideas that made the characters, spaceships and planets look and feel both compelling and believable.

The ship that warped all concepts of what a spaceship had to look like-- Boba Fett's Slave I from Return of the Jedi.

It would have been more than enough to have conceived the Star Wars iconography.  But McQuarrie also designed the mothership for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he worked on E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek IV, and Jurassic Park.  And all those ships in the original Battlestar Galactica?  McQuarrie had a hand in that as well.

The Cylons taking on a Viper Mk. II. Concept art for the original Battlestar Galactica.

When I was in the 4th grade, I had this book of Empire Strikes Back concept art.  I wore the spine out of that book tracing pictures of Yoda, the snow speeders and Imperial AT-ATs.  It fired my imagination and undoubtedly played a part in my fondness for faffing about with home made spaceships nowadays.  I don’t know why it’s important, I just know that it is.  So I bid Ralph McQuarrie a heartfelt farewell.  May he be free to roam the cosmos in the coolest spaceships ever designed.

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Not A Photograph – The Mission Of Burma Documentary

Someone has kindly uploaded the Mission of Burma documentary, Not A Photograph, to the youtubes. Though it centers around the legendary post-punk band’s 2002 reconstitution, there are also a lot of great vintage clips and interviews.  Well worth a watch if you’re a fan.

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Friday Night Freakout – Krautrock Clusterfück Edition

Can vs. Guru Guru vs. Amon Düül II all live on the Germany’s WDR.  Feel free to take your brain out of your skull for the duration.

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