Archive for September, 2010

MacArthur Fellow David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme

$500,000 with absolutely no-strings-attached. The dreamiest fellowship of them all. It’s that time of year and the MacArthur Foundation has announced its list of fellows. We noticed among the list of “geniuses” a few past Studio 360 guests. Last spring Kurt Andersen spoke to David Simon, the creator of The Wire and Treme on HBO and last summer we were treated to a live in-studio performance from the jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran. Way back in 2001, Kurt had a conversation with installation artist Jorge Pardo.

The MacArthur Foundation chose 23 recipients across art, science, and the humanities: from a high school physics teacher to a fiction writer.

Hear what all these MacArthur fellows had to say about receiving their grants here.

And check out their Studio 360 segments below.

Jorge Pardo

David Simon

Jason Moran

-Georgette Pierre

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The first time I heard the Tom Tom Club’s song “Genius of Love” off their eponymous debut album I thought  “Hey, that’s Mariah Carey’s song.” Turns out I was only half-right.  Back in 1995, when I was twelve, Mariah Carey’s hit “Fantasy” was playing on every Top 40 station and I was choreographing dance routines to it with my friends. The rhythms in Tom Tom Club’s upbeat 1981 hit made “Genius” a hip hop sampling favorite too.  Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur and T.I. have all used snippets of the track. Mariah Carey created “Fantasy” as a remix and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five made “It’s Nasty”.

Fast forward 29 years and the Tom Tom Club is releasing a tribute to the tune, it comes out today, and it’s called “Genius of Live.” The album features select tracks from their “Live at the Clubhouse” album along with  recent remixes of the song created by lesser known  artists like the Latin-fusion band Ozomatli, the electronic dance musician Senor Coconut, and Money Mark — he’s the guy who came up with the familiar keyboard phrase that opens and underpins Beck’s hit “Where It’s At.” Money Mark’s  remix of “Genius” was, well, genius.  He somehow managed to make it even more uplifting, almost gleeful.  He adds random found sounds to his version like snippets of phone rings,  a harmonica track and a woman mumbling words in German.

Tom Tom Club’s  founding members, the husband and wife team of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, spoke to Studio 360 a few years ago about the artwork of James Rizzi — whose artwork is on  the covers of three of their albums. They explain how Rizzi’s cartoonish and colorful drawings match perfectly with the sound and message of their music.

Tom Tom Club Fans were bummed when the band recently had to cancel some tour dates (it’s their first tour in ten years), but TTC is still set to play The Getty in Los Angeles on October the 9th. Check the rest of their tour dates here. Listen to all the “Genius of Love” remixes here.

-Julia Botero

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The music industry is dying, and the smart money says the key to success is giving music away for free.  Scott Blaszak has a better idea: he’ll pay you $10 to download his album.  “Free is not enough!” Blaszak says.  He has a name for his revolutionary business model: “PremiFree.”  You saw it here first.

(Featuring Pace Rommel, with voiceover by Mark Price and music by John Delore and Jay Frederick.)

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Captain’s Log

Ronald D. Moore has one of the coolest jobs in Hollywood — he gets to play god in science fiction worlds that he creates. Before “re-imagine” and “reboot” were buzzwords, Moore re-invented the cheesy 1980s TV show “Battlestar Galactica” as an allegory for the War on Terror. His new series on the Syfy Network is called “Caprica,” and it’s a prequel to “Battlestar.” For Studio 360’s series on works of art that have changed people’s lives, I talked with Moore about how “Star Trek” has been his creative muse since he was a kid: you can hear that story here.

I’m a big fan of his work – and of his podcasts. After each episode of “Battlestar” aired, Moore would upload a post-mortem commentary he recorded while enjoying a good cigar. Analyzing a scene, he’d jump from creative introspection to referencing historic military battles and on-set anecdotes. I was thrilled to finally be able to respond back to that interesting voice.

In one of the best parts of our conversation (which had to be left on the cutting room floor), Moore talks about the constraints of writing for “Star Trek” and the need to break away when he reimagined “Battlestar.” Two immediate changes: no captain’s chair and no big view screen.

“Caprica” resumes next month.

– Eric Molinsky

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In 1966, when Britain’s The Troggs hit it big with their classic tune “Wild Thing,” the members of the Austin-based garage rock band The Strange Boys had yet to be born. Thanks to the lasting power of records and a strong Texas scene, the group is now poised to inherit garage rock’s musical legacy.

Lead vocalist Ryan Sambol and drummer Matt Hammer were only in 8th grade in 2001 when they started as a punk duo. That year, music by bands like The Strokes and The Hives was being consumed in mass quantities, helping to usher garage rock back into the mainstream — soon the group incorporated the trademark fuzzy guitar sound into their music. In 2008, The Strange Boys released their first full-length album, just in time for Sambol’s 21st birthday. The band has since played alongside respected Texas rock n roll acts Daniel Johnston and Roky Erickson.

I had the great fortune of watching the Boys kick off a month-long tour for their new album Be Brave at The Saturn Bar in New Orleans. These days, their sound is a gritty combination of roots music, 1960’s R & B, and dirty southern soul — a sharp contrast to the precious baby-faced innocence the group evokes on stage. Sambol’s early-Dylan drawl is instantly recognizable and their twangy-guitar and up-beat tempo in songs like “Woe is You & Me” and “I See” are reminiscent of The Velvet Underground. For Be Brave the band has added a saxophone to the mix, played by Jenna Thonhill-Dewitt, former member of the Californian punk band Mika Miko. Midway through the group’s languid title track, Thonhill-Dewitt broke out into a warbling saxophone solo and proved their music is developing in a surprising and unique direction. Even as Sambol’s Fender string snapped halfway through the show, the group played on, referencing everything from free-jazz, to soul to good old fashioned rock n roll.

The Strange Boys are inching their way northward after a line of performances in the South. Check them out tonight in Ithaca, NY before they make their way to Montreal and continue on through the Midwest. Their full schedule is here.

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Last night, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced that they would hold sort-of-but-not-really-competing rallies at the Lincoln Memorial on October 30th.

Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” will be the voice of reason countering Colbert’s alarmist “March to Keep Fear Alive.” It’s a real-life satire of Glenn Beck’s Tea Party demonstration called “Restoring Honor” held on the National mall this past August. And it brings Comedy Central’s continued lampooning of absurd punditry and broken politics to a whole new level.

The Lincoln Memorial is America’s soap box. Most famously, in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech catapulted the efforts of the Civil Rights movement, and it helped make the memorial one of the country’s most powerful architectural symbols.  It’s without a doubt a solemn space for Americans, but not one the comedy world hasn’t touched before.  After all, Legally Blonde’s cartoonish “Elle Woods” and the actual cartoon Lisa Simpson have both found inspiration there.  Who knows if history will be made there on October 30th, but we can probably count on Colbert and Stewart being pretty funny.

A few years ago, as part of our series American Icons, Studio 360 devoted a whole hour to the Memorial, in which Kurt Andersen looked at what makes it the place to give a speech.

This fall, our Peabody Award-winning series returns.  Studio 360 will bring you stories on I Love Lucy, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner,” the Harley-Davidson, and that other piece of architectural Americana, Monticello (an episode that, coincidentally, features Stephen Colbert).  American Icons picks up next week with the premiere of our one-hour episode on The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  Don’t miss it!

-Stephen Reader

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The next time you hit the club, you may find yourself rocking out to a song sung by a nine-year old.

I’m amazed at the buzz swirling around Willow Smith‘s first single “Whip My Hair.” The song is sassy, confident, and already receiving comparisons to Rihanna. Of course, it’s no secret that Willow comes from an entertainment dynasty: she is the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith and at the tender age of nine, she’s inked a record deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

One thing that impresses me about Willow’s song is how mature she sounds. Her vocals are already a pretty convincing alto. And her chosen wardrobe is much more avant-garde than her famous parents or brother. When you take a break from bobbing your head and finally listen to the lyrics, you’ll realize they’re actually pretty age-appropriate. This young star-in-the-making has already created a successful pop product, with a style that’s all her own.

But will she be a one hit wonder? She has many years ahead of her for that to be determined.

– Georgette Pierre

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The vinyl grooves of the Beatles's "Eleanor Rigby" (Photographed by Felice C. Frankel)

Ready for an extreme close-up?

Felice C. Frankel has spent 20 years photographing objects outside the range of conventional microscopes — bits of matter 1/100,000th the size of a baby’s eyelashes.  Nanoscience is one of the frontiers of technology, and with her book No Small Matter (co-written by Harvard chemist George Whitesides), Frankel hopes to inspire exploration and understanding of the nanoscale.

Studio 360’s Sarah Lilley produced a short piece about Frankel and her work for last weekend’s show — but she realized that some of this stuff had to be seen to be believed:

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It’s Murphy’s Law that you’ll discover your new favorite musician just after they announce they’re giving up music, right?

Over the last decade Marc Anthony Thompson has released a series of albums under the name Chocolate Genius. His music straddles everything from alt country to experimental R&B, to pop soul. Sadly, he’s just released what he says is his final album — the aptly titled Swansongs.

But before he said goodbye for good, Chocolate Genius dropped by Studio 360 to treat us to a beautiful rendition of “Sit and Spin,” which he says is about “the sorry state of healthcare” in America.

Chocolate Genius told Kurt about his plans for the future — we’ve got their full conversation, plus more of his live performance, here.

– Britta Conroy-Randall

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Jonathan Franzen Mans Up

When guests come into Studio 360 and get settled, I tend to have a bit of friendly small talk with them before we start the Official Interview. But as Jonathan Franzen and I chit-chatted earlier this week as we prepared to talk about his terrific new novel Freedom, one bit of that talk wasn’t so small. When I passingly, joshingly used the verb phrase “to man up,” it struck a nerve.

More of our our conversation airs this weekend.

– Kurt Andersen

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