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Sometimes It Snows In April

It was a while before I was ready for Prince. I was still a kid in the 80’s, when Prince was still dissolving any barriers between popular music genres and the sounds he heard in his head. Michael Jackson made sense to me. There was just enough danger in Thriller to make it exciting while still being as broadly appealing as possible. Bon Jovi I got. Sure, he wore spandex, but it was in a totally heteronormative way. I was growing up in an all white shore town in 1980’s New Jersey. Even in a culture steeped in glam-metal, Prince seemed a bit scary because he wasn’t putting on an act. There was no normal guy underneath the mascara. This was Prince, all the way down.

I was like 6 years old and wanted nothing to do with him. 

It wasn’t until later that it all clicked. By this time, it was the 90’s, and Prince had fallen out of favor. In fact, he wasn’t even Prince at this point. He had long since changed his name to a lazy-joke-fodder symbol. He wasn’t on the radio or MTV any more. Crazy as it sounds today, Prince seemed really uncool. This was, perhaps, the worst possible time to become a fan. 

But Prince was still out there, doing his thing. Even though he had become a punch line to much of pop culture, there were still plenty of people who never lost faith. I would keep hearing musicians I loved and respected talk about how he changed their lives. It didn’t make sense. He was a dude who wore purple, sang about doves crying, and seemed doomed to be stuck in pre-grunge pop music. 

Then one day I picked up a used copy of the Love Symbol Album for three dollars. I still remember putting it in the CD player in my car being blown away by My Name Is Prince, the opening track. I had never heard anything like this. The elements were all familiar, but there was something magical about the exact way he pulled together rock, funk, new jack swing, and golden era hip hop. This was no fluke. The next song was an entirely different mix but just a good. Now he started incorporating jazz. Who did this?

I became obsessed. Despite having only this one CD, I knew that I was now a die hard Prince fan. As a poor college student, I spent entire weekends scouring used CD stores to stock up on Prince’s back catalog. 

In retrospect, it’s amazing that Prince was ever a pop star. He was too pure an artist. He never played it safe. He never dumbed it down. He made adult music, and he didn’t care if you liked it or not. He was a jumble of contradictions. Prince was a shy man who knew he was a fucking rock star. He was a religious man who was deeply sensual. He was a marketing genius who would purposely build barriers in front of his work. 

Prince was the Large Hadron Collider of American popular culture. He would take the same raw materials available to the rest of us but would smash them together with such fantastic energy that he would consistently create something new, often dangerous, always fascinating. 

I wish I could have said thank you, but it’s too late now. All I can do is keep shaking my ass, the way Prince would want it. 

Categories: Music, Uncategorized Tags:

The Kids Are All Right

February 21, 2016 Leave a comment

Am I out of touch

Being in your mid-thirties is a strange time. You’ve likely been out on your own long enough to no longer be one of the “kids”, but unless you’re a real hard-hearted son of a bitch, you’ve probably not reached the “get off of my lawn” phase yet, either. It’s a transition period for most people. and of course I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how and why so many people make that leap from “we are not old me. We are not worried about petty morals” to “kids these days”.

On the most recent episode of Reconcilable Differences, John and Merlin touched on this. Merlin told a story of Stephen Fry discovering Oscar Wilde as a kid living in the country, without the access to the constant stimulation that we take for granted today. Each scrap of writing he could obtain by or about Oscar Wilde  was precious and and not just consumed but digested. Fry says unequivocally that he would not be the same person he is today had he grown up with Internet.

He doesn’t say this as a value judgment. It’s just a fact. In a lot of ways, we are the sum of our influences. It’s true that society could never create another you, exactly as you are. A kid growing up today would be exposed to different influences in different amounts. And I think that this is what scares older folks so much. It’s not just that young people today are raised in a different world and have different interests. It’s that this questions the essentialness of their nature. If we allow society to move away from the interests and values I hold dear, what does that say about me? 

Of course, this is nothing new. In fact, it’s kind of depressing how predictable it is. Every stale joke about “hipsters” or Snapchat or whatever else else older folks don’t understand has been made innumerable times over the course of history. Only the nouns have changed.

Does this mean that all new trends are benign, kids are gonna do what they do, so lets move everyone over 40 to Florida so the rest of us can move forward already? I wouldn’t go that far. But I would ask that as you age, dear reader, have a little faith in our youth. Kids today may need a little nudge here and there, but eventually they’ll figure it out.

Categories: Uncategorized

Choosing NSDictionary Keys

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Say you’re creating a dictionary in Objective-C. The idea is that you have two objects that you want to link, where whenever you reference the one (a key), you get in return the other (the value). For example, you’re car shopping, and you’re writing a little app to help you pick which car you want. So you create some Car objects, and then go about classifying them. You pick some criteria, like “fastest car” and “most cup holders”, and you want each to reference the appropriate car. And you want all of these together, in one place, so that you can pass this dictionary around and make some kind of checks. 

What do you use as the keys for this? NSDictionary has some pretty strict requirements as to what object can be a key, so most of the time the easiest option is an NSString. I guess you can just create some string literals, and use something like @fastestCar and @mostCupHolders. But that just looks… messy. You could initialize a string like NSString *fastestCar = [NSString stringWithString:@“fastestCar”] , but again, that seems like overkill. It would be nice if you could use an enum, but NSDictionary requires an object.

I noticed that for Apple’s use of imagePickerController, you’re passed a dictionary when the user choses photo. That dictionary contains the image itself, as well as some metadata. What was interesting to me was the keys seem were clearly objects, but really the type was arbitrary. All we were concerned with were the names, which were characteristically descriptive (e.g. UIImagePickerControllerOriginalImage). 

Looking at the declaration, it appears that it’s defined as an NSString * const. Is there a string built in there? Not as far as I can tell. And it wouldn’t matter if there was. 

The object, I learned cannot be nil, but it doesn’t have to actually be some arbitrary string either. Simply declaring NSString *const fastestCar = [[NSString alloc] init]; is enough. You’ve got an initialized NSString that makes a valid key.

Why bother? It’s not going to make a huge difference to your code’s readability, but it can lessens the cognitive burden of having to figure out a placeholder string, and it just looks cleaner than throwing string literals in there every time you want to access a value. It’s boilerplate, but it can be worth it if you’re going to be reusing this key more than a handful of times.  

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Standing In The Way Of The Future

December 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Via Jason Snell at Six Colors, it’s becoming apparent to many that if a la carte programming is the way of the future, the math doesn’t add up for professional sports. My initial thought is… good.

It’s clear that there is a ton of dead weight in professional sports right now. People complain about athlete’s exorbitant salaries, and sometimes rightly so, but in general let’s remember that they are the reason we watch sports. Without them the whole system falls apart. Still, if demand lowers to some sort of natural plateau (without the artificial inflation of cable companies subsidizing them), eventually we’d reach some equilibrium. Player salaries would lower. The owners would either take a pay cut themselves, or sell to some other one-percenter who just wants the prestige of owning a ball team. And the teams would be forced to find ways to make the games more appealing and actually draw in enough viewers to sustain itself. 

My point is that we all have a lot more entertainment options right now. The movie and music industries are similarly being forced to question what is really necessary to sustain themselves. They’re sliming down, and that’s tough. Peoples jobs are going away, and I don’t want to diminish that. But I do think that these industries will come through stronger once they learn to pare away some of the excess and focus on what made them popular in the first place. 

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A Turkey By Any Other Name

November 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving is in trouble. First, there’s the unpleasantness of its origins. We’ve so tied Thanksgiving to Americas founding myth that, as we become more conscious of the atrocities committed against the Native Americans, it becomes harder to stomach. Secondly, the meal has become, for some, a chore. Many love turkey with all the fixings, but having to produce that for a dozen or more relatives can be stressful. Finally, Thanksgiving has become stale. It is a day of feasting, but the meaning isn’t clear, and except for grand dad’s speech before digging in, we don’t really take the time to be thankful for what we have. When do we have the time? The potatoes are going to burn, the kids can’t decide on a movie to watch, and uncle Harry is hitting on his sister-in-law again.

Thanksgiving needs a makeover. A rebranding. Here’s what I propose.

Thanksgiving Day

After umpteen repetitions, words and images tend to lose their meaning. That is why Pepsi has a new logo every 5 years. Traditions can be the same thing. What was once a comforting ritual can become repetitive, to the point where you are going through the motions. A slight change of emphasis can make all the difference. Imagine that the day isn’t named “Thanksgiving”. Instead it is designated to giving thanks. Just as Veterans Day isn’t named “Veterans”, having a slight twist here will change the way we think of it.

Also, it will relieve the burden on on the feast. We are no longer a country of farmers, and celebrating the harvest seems a little antiquated. Yes, farms are important, even in post-industrial America. In fact, farms large and small might be more important now that they have been in generations. But there are plenty of things to be thankful for. We all have our own list. Why shouldn’t we each have an opportunity to appreciate those things the way we want. Thanksgiving was about turkey. Thanksgiving Day is about whatever allows you to grateful for what you have. If that is turkey, then so be it. If that is a polar bear plunge, more power to you.

Finally, the new Thanksgiving Day will shift focus away from the original “pilgrims and natives” narrative. I’m not saying we should whitewash history, but we’ve got Columbus day to feel terrible about the raping of an entire continent. Thanksgiving Day can be more about the now. Every year’s celebration can be different, because as long as we’re on the right side of the dirt we always have new things to be thankful for.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving the old fashioned way. But we’ve done that. And lets face it, they sell turkeys 365 days a year. We can eat those any time we like. Lets bring this holiday into the 21st century by shifting the focus from the meal to the toast.

Categories: Uncategorized

Eden

September 7, 2014 Leave a comment

I’ve been reading Brook Wilensky-Lanaford’s enjoyable and detailed Paradise Lust, about the modern search for a physical Garden of Eden. It’s interesting that the story revolves around the 19th century and its aftermath. This was a very strange transitional time in the relationship between science, history, and religion. The importance (and practicality) of proving the stories from the Bible were real, literal history seems new, or at least newly resurgent. 

While I am not an expert in history, or religion, or the history of religion, or the religion of history, this is the internet, so I I feel free to speculate. My guess is that we are seeing a hang over of sorts from the Enlightenment and the Age of Exploration. While men traipsing off in search of legends was nothing new, by the 19th century the map had been more or less filled in. The great explorers of this time had only the past left to challenge them. Some saw this as an opportunity. These men were seized with the notion that, the word map being the height of mankind’s achievement, surely Eden was somewhere right under their noses. 

Some pointed to the areas of map still left unexplored at that time, while others looked in locations of varying degrees of obviousness. But one explanation I didn’t see anyone mention is the possibility that Eden was just a story.

Somewhere along the way, Western Christendom seems to have completely lost the idea of the allegory. Maybe it was never there to begin with. Pedantry is a hallmark of religion (Paradise Lust describes one group of Protestants as being persecuted for believing that new members should be baptized face first, rather than bending backwards). But this seemed different. Suddenly the tools of science were being used to marry fact and religion. New theories came as easily from the halls of Oxford as from midwestern preachers. The distance between the two narrowed to unprecedented proportions. 

We still haven’t learned to balance the competing needs of religion and science. It does not speak well of ours as a culture that something like the Creation Museum exists. Before we can truly get a grasp of fact, we need to learn to accept fiction. 

Categories: Uncategorized

A few thoughts on Lou Reed

October 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Most everyone has a personal story of when we first got Lou Reed or the Velvets. I came to the party late. Throughout college the only Lou I knew was Transformer. I had that CD in constant rotation in my car (along with Exile On Main Street and L.A.M.F.). Transformer is a glorious rock and roll album, but I don’t think I really understood what Uncle Lou was up to until just after college, when one day I walked out of Vintage Vinyl with the Velvet Underground box set.

I didn’t listen to it right away. I remember ending up in south Jersey one night with a couple friends of mine, for no reason other than it was a hours drive away from all our usual haunts. We were parked next to a Church’s Chicken, having just eaten the worst fried okra imaginable. We had all heard the stories. Lou and Andy and John and Nico and the Factory. So we put on disk 2 and played it. Loud.

It wasn’t the raucous punk rock album we were expecting. It was at times melancholy, violent, and desperate. No doubt the effect has dulled a bit by the decades of imitation. But clearly the album was something special. Then we got to disk 2, and the White Light/White Heat sessions. It was too much to process in one night.

Lou Reed got a lot of milage out if being Lou Reed. When you’re the guy who invents cool, you can do albums of tai-chi background music and pretty much get a pass. But now that he’s passed away, we’re left with some crazy stories and a truly remarkable and expansive body of work. If the is one sentiment that sums up his oeuvre, it would be okay, you did that. Now try something else. No looking back.

Categories: Uncategorized