Here is the transcript and audio (no video).
We discuss what makes Florida special, why business writing is so terrible, Eddie Murphy, whether social conservatives can be funny (in public), the weirdness of Peter Pan, how he is so productive, playing guitar with Roger McGuinn, DT, the future of comedy, and much much more. Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: If I look at old slapstick, it doesn’t seem funny at all. Intuitively, you would think slapstick, being only physical, would have a much longer half-life. What I find funny is very culturally specific references. Now, am I strange?
BARRY: Well, not about slapstick. When I was a little guy, I maybe thought that the Three Stooges were kind of funny but that stopped a long time ago. Some physical humor is still funny to me. Abbott and Costello were pretty physical, but they were funny without being slapstick. Just hitting each other in the nose and going, “nyuk, nyuk, nyuk” never struck me as funny at all. I have forgotten the second part of your question.
On different comedians and what’s not funny anymore
COWEN: You mentioned Abbott and Costello. If you’re willing, I’ll talk about a few comedians, or mention a few, and you can tell me what you found funny with them, didn’t find funny.
Let’s start with Abbott and Costello. Favorite of my father. I’ve watched almost all the movies. As I kid, I didn’t find them funny, but I actually started to find them funny in retrospect after having watched a bit of Seinfeld and Larry David. What’s your take on Abbott and Costello?
BARRY: Yeah, I can see the connection there. It more relies on you letting it — the humor — slowly develop and the characters themselves being the humor without coming right out and saying what’s funny about it: The one who never understands what’s going on, the one who’s always losing his patience with the other one. The first, maybe, three or four times, it’s just mildly amusing. But after a while, when you see it coming, that becomes very funny to you.
It’s very rare to find that kind of patience in humor anymore. I don’t think the audience is as generous as it used to be, allowing humor to build the way it did in an Abbott and Costello sketch.
COWEN: And is Abbott or Costello funnier to you? Abbott being the straight man.
BARRY: Yeah, I think Abbott is funnier.
COWEN: I think he’s much funnier.
Most of all, I was impressed by Dave Barry as a managerial force for his own career. Again, here is the link.
Let’s cut to the chase:
1. Symphonies #1, 5, and 7 are dominated assets, the latter two being too sprawling. #8 is meant to be seen live, and #10 isn’t Mahler’s finished version. #4 is attractive, but somewhat lightweight.
2. #2 requires a very good recording, my favorite is Stokowski with the London Symphony Orchestra, even though he changes the score. If you can’t find that, try Abbado or Levine, both of those two being good default choices for Mahler. Those two conductors are also good choices for #3, another symphony in the Mahler pantheon.
3. #6 is the most nerve-wracking and insane and requiring of full volume. I’m still looking for the perfect recording of that one, sometimes I like Barbirolli.
4. #9 is the best music, I recommend von Karajan.
5. Pierre Boulez offers an alternative perspective on any of these symphonies, plus he has one of the very best Das Lied von der Erde recordings, that song cycle being part of the canon of essential Mahler works.
6. The quality of your listening conditions is especially important for Mahler. And during any listen a) try to spot the Austrian folk tunes, and b) think of Mahler as one of the greatest opera conductors, including for Mozart, of his time.
7. A short piano piece by Mozart, as a palate cleaner, sounds especially good after a Mahler symphony.
That’s what you need to know.
There’s no point in doing a complete survey, but here are a few observations and suggestions:
1. I am not intrigued by much Mozart written before K330 or so. Piano Concerto #9 is one exception to this. But Toscanini was right to claim that too much of it sounds the same.
2. The string quintets are the best Mozart pieces you might not know, but skip K174.
3. The string quartets and Requiem might be the most overrated Mozart, though the latter would be wonderful if he could have finished it. It is better to listen to the fragmented version, without the artificial Süssmayr ending.
4. The Milos Forman Mozart movie is worth a viewing, if you don’t already know it. I thought I would hate it, but didn’t. Don’t try to learn history from it, however.
6. The operas reign supreme. Try Currentzis or Colin Davis for Don Giovanni, Haitink or Klemperer for The Magic Flute, Boehm for Cosi Fan Tutte, Giulini for Figaro, and Rene Jacobs for Idomeneo. I don’t know of a definitive version of Abduction from the Seraglio, but Beecham and Krips are good and Harnoncourt does the overture best, as he never lets up on the rambunctious in it. If I had to choose the operas, or all the rest of Mozart put together, I would go for the operas.
In the 1960s, an average hit song on the Billboard Top 10 had an average of 1.87 writers and 1.68 publishers each year. Songwriting duos were common, and creativity a simpler endeavor…
During the LP era (60s-80s), the number of songwriters and publishers on hit songs didn’t rise as dramatically. Based on the Songdex analysis, in the 70s, hit songs on the Billboard Top 10 had an average of 1.95 writers and 2.04 publishers each. During the 80s, the number of average publishers in top 10 songs slightly rose to 2.06. The number of writers remained the same.
In the 90s, the number spiked to an average of 3.13 writers and 3.49 publishers per top 10 song. Incidentally, the change coincides with the rise of digital music formats, such as the MP3. Napster also launched in 1999. All of which ushered in an era of massive data overload (and that’s before streaming took hold).
Consumers quickly adopted digital music formats, resulting in a “market need for registration, licensing and reporting systems,” says Music Reports. In the 2000s, Billboard Top 10 hits had an average of 3.50 writers and 4.96 publishers each year.
This past decade, streaming has emerged as a major source of revenue for record labels. Using its Songdex catalog registry, Music Reports noted that Billboard Top 10 hits saw an average of 4.07 writers and six publishers.
Here is the full story, I am glad Beethoven never did much co-authoring, with apologies to Diabelli.
Too many people think of him as ordinary and earthy, compared to Mozart or Beethoven. Yet he composed amazing amounts of pathbreaking, first-rate music, and it wears remarkably well upon repeated listenings.
My approach to Haydn is pretty simple:
1. Some of the early piano music is boring, but a simple availability metric will point you to the best material. The deepest are the six last sonatas, and most well-known performances are quite good. Ax, McCabe, Kalish, Richter, and Brendel are among the first choices, Jando (Naxos) and Buchbinder are good enough to listen to but not preferred. By the way, piano > pianoforte, there was no great stagnation.
2. Listen to as many of the string quartets as you can, with preference given to Opus 76. On average, the later opus numbers are better, yet Op.9 and Op.20 still are worthwhile.
3. Listen to the London Symphonies. Again and again. All of them, Dorati being one option for conductor.
That’s hardly the only wonderful Haydn, but those are the pieces that work best through recordings. See the choral and vocal music live. Most of the concerti bore me, as do the piano trios. Many of the earlier symphonies are good, including the Paris set and the “Sturm und Drang” period, but unless you have lots and lots of time I say focus on the London ones for now.
As the years or decades pass, you will realize you have been underrating Haydn.
The latest instance of the musical death and resurrection show is none other than Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010. Thanks to a hologram (actually a high-tech version of an old parlor trick), the former Black Sabbath frontman will start touring Europe the November 30th before hitting the States next spring. “His” set will change nightly, according to Rolling Stone, and audio recordings were pulled from his entire career. “He” will play each night with a backing band and some dates will have singers Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest) and Oni Logan (Racer X) on stage as well.
Age 46, a Torres Strait Islander, here are various obituaries.
I am in Delaware only briefly. I have not covered the state before, so here are some of my picks:
1. Chemicals manufacturer: I think that one has to go to the Duponts, I enjoyed the Gerard Zilg biography of the Dupont family and history.
2. Economic historian: Alfred Chandler.
3. Monetarist who studied policy instruments and uncertainty: William Poole.
4. Semi-libertarian journalist: Dave Weigel.
Hmm…music? I don’t like George Thorogood. A quality novelist? How about a painter or sculptor? Some big time NBA star? Biden is my favorite of Obama’s VPs. It is claimed that the movie Fight Club is set in Delaware. So many special dishes too, in the local cuisine.
The bottom line: Small wonder it is!
Here is a new interview with Gladwell, much of it focusing on the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Here is one excerpt:
I was more than interested to discover how much of the work on these effects—which in education they call “same race effects”—has been done by economists. If I’m a social psychologist, the economists are eating my lunch. They’re doing very persuasive, very elegant studies using these data sets that come out of the education reform movement. The economists are the first to jump on it. I feel like that is rich hunting ground for social psychologists as well, and they can bring a perspective to the analysis of that data that the economist can’t.
I’m not criticizing the work that’s been done by economists, but if you read it, you will notice that there is a beat that’s missing—they’re economists, so they come at it from a different perspective. I would love to see social psychologists go over that same data and interpret it their way. And that again would be something that would be insanely useful to the conversation we have in this country about how to make schools better.
And here is Malcom on his next book:
MG: Yes. I’ve started a new book, and it very explicitly comes out of the world of psychology. There was a paper that Lee Ross wrote 50 years ago, maybe 45 years ago, called “Shortcomings of the Intuitive Psychologist.” It’s a famous paper, and I’m tearing off a little, tiny piece of that argument and having fun with it.
DN: And what piece is that?
MG: I’m interested in how we deal with strangers. How good are our intuitive ideas about dealing with strangers? I haven’t thought it through entirely, but I’m fascinated by what it means to deal with someone who you don’t know and, most importantly, whose credibility you cannot assess easily. Strikes me as a very contemporary problem, and from a psychological perspective, super interesting. There’s just so much fantastic psychology on that question.
The brief discussion on rock and roll vs. country music was interesting as well.
What’s bad for [the now trade-restricted] K-pop is excellent for Chinese musicians, who are seizing on the opportunity. One group skyrocketing in popularity in the absence of K-pop “idols” is SNH48, a Shanghai-based girl band that has a rotating cast of members—somewhere around 220, depending how you count the generations—and just raised more than $150 million from investors last month. If the idea of girl-band investors seems odd, you should know that SNH48, whose performers are voted in and out by fans, is far more of a corporate business than a music group. Per the Financial Times (paywall):
“Unlike western pop, which trades on authenticity and the idea of performers singing from the heart, SNH48 is run more like a tech start-up than a musical group. Taking its inspiration from Japanese group AKB48, instead of a core group it runs on teams of interchangeable singers—a strategy managers hope will allow it to build generations of young female stars and longer-lasting revenue streams.”
Fans use a mobile app to track their favorite singers, send notes to them, and watch their livestreams. The band’s managers carefully curate new teams of performers every year, which is similar to how South Korea’s massive K-pop factory is run.
Is this a good idea? A whole station devoted to Beatles music and Beatles music-derived products, plus a few early musical inspirations? I ask as a fan, not a critic. Based on about a week of listening, here are my impressions:
1. No Beatles songs were better live. Paul McCartney had a few gems in concert, most notably the 1976 Wings over America “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Oddly, “Magneto and Titanium Man” is also better live, perhaps because it was silly to begin with.
2. There are too many extant versions of “Here Comes the Sun,” though Nina Simone had a good one.
3. Ringo songs from the early 1970s, while you would never listen to them voluntarily, hold up OK in this context.
4. The worst feature of the channel is how they use short bursts of Beatle songs to advertise the channel itself. To play only the first few chords of “Getting Better” is an abuse of the ear and maltreatment of the art, like seeing Mondrian designs on shopping bags. Why can’t the station just advertise itself by…playing Beatle and Beatle-derived songs? In their entirety.
5. The last sequence of “Rain” still seem to me their finest moment. “Let it Be” remains the most overrated major Beatles song.
6. The early solo songs are what are most welcome to hear, at the margin.
7. The way this station operates doesn’t mesh well with the rest of satellite radio. No single station on satellite radio is that good, except for the classical music station. Yet the medium as a whole works because you can always switch to another station, especially with voice activation. Yet one is reluctant to switch away from the Beatles station. Even if the current song is bad, you feel something wonderful always might be coming up, and besides most of the songs are pretty short and so they will be over soon. But if it’s just the Beatles you want to hear, you don’t need satellite radio to achieve that end. So a funny kind of intransitivity kicks in, and maybe the Beatles satellite radio channel can nudge you away from satellite radio altogether, precisely because it is better than all the other channels, and it thus pushes you away from an approach based on a diverse menu of DJ-driven choice.
8. Would it hurt to play more Dylan, a major influence on the Beatles?
If you can play the “Imperial March” in less than 12 parsecs, you’ll want to check out this highly customized Millennium Falcon piano up for auction on eBay. The piano starred in a popular YouTube video featuring pianist Sony Belousova turning out an impressive medley of Star Wars music.
Hat tip goes to Ted Gioia.
- Lupe Fiasco — The Cool (2007 Lupe’s peak as an artist, this and Food & Liquor. He has a tragic fall from grace in the rap game)
- Blu — Below the Heavens (Also an older classic underground album, Blu was a prodigy who never quite made it)
- Phonte — Charity Starts at home (Phonte from Little Brother’s first and only solo album)
- Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (The best of two legendary MC’s)
- J Cole — Forest Hills Drive
- Homeboy Sandman — First of a Living Breed (My favorite artist because he’s a true poet.)
- Common — Be (Common produced by Kanye in 2005)
- Chance the Rapper — Acid Rap (Chance’s first mixtape that propelled him to the national spotlight)
Some of it I knew already, in any case I thought these were very good selections…
Johnny Rogan, The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited, The Sequel, get the full-length edition, not the much shorter 1980 volume.
Chris Twomey, XTC: Chalkhills and Children.
…in addition to the very recent Dreaming the Beatles, which I just reviewed.
NB: These are music books and I am not even recommending them to most of you. These books only make sense if you already know a good deal about the careers of the artists involved.
Here is my advice on how to find excellent management books and management advice: pick some areas you know fairly well, be it music, sports, military campaigns, a scientific discovery, the making of a historic plane flight, or whatever. Read a very detailed book about that. Think through the lessons of that book(s). Unfortunately, books about corporations so often filter their management information through homilies, hidden agendas, NDAs, ego boosts, paybacks, and other forms of…bullshit. Music and sports books won’t, as they are too concerned with other kinds of stupid filters. But you will get the lowdown on management for the most part.
There are some special reasons why I find the Byrds and XTC fruitful areas for reading for management advice, above and beyond my knowledge of the history and the musical content. Neither group was massively profitable in a sustained manner, though they had their successes. The two histories contain both triumphs and some major mistakes. The main creators worked very consistently at their music for decades, and were not afraid to take chances or to operate with a long time horizon. Nor did they destroy themselves, even though they were fatally flawed as creators. Both histories are also studies in small group dynamics, including their eventual collapse; the Byrds are more a story of changing personnel and its costs. Both histories embody tales of retreat and also return, and an ongoing evolution of styles and media. Both stories have (relatively) happy endings, but only for those who kept at work rather than partook in indulgences. Those features may or may not apply to your own personal circumstances, choose your management books accordingly, but I those kinds of stories more interesting than say books about the Rolling Stones.
If you can find books such as these, they are among the most valuable you will read. Yet it is very hard to find them through recommendations, given the idiosyncratic nature of the content and its relevance. Of course that is precisely why they have such high marginal value.
Over the past eight years, Scarlatti (a pseudonym he uses to keep his avant garde hobbies separate from his straight career), his brother (aka Ancient Pine), and a childhood friend who records under the name Pendra Gon, have been countering music’s increasing ease of availability by releasing recordings on formats intentionally designed to be difficult—or even dangerous—to play: Albums with ink screenprinted over the grooves. CD-Rs that have been made into air fresheners by having herbs glued all over them. Cassettes covered in shards of actual broken glass. (Scarlatti says his two partners are largely uninvolved in Auris at this point.)
“It never really started as a record label,” Scarlatti says. “It started kind of as a weird idea about releasing music that you couldn’t listen to or purchase. We never really could manifest a logical way to implement that, which is why it sort of evolved into the label. I guess it was more of an absurdist digital performance art, is what the idea was.”
Absurdity—specifically a kind of surly noise-geek strain of neo-Dadaism—runs through all of Auris’s “anti-releases.” For a recent cassette by LATHER, who constructs noisy arrangements out of piles of broken electronics, they removed the teeth in the tape’s reels, rendering it unplayable. A sold-out tape by Unholy Triforce called Some Assembly Required came in the form of a kit that a listener would have to assemble before playing. Scarlatti released one of his own compositions as a length of unspooled magnetic tape.