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The Deadliest Karaoke Song

The New York Times gets a lot of grief for treating obscure trends as news. This time, however, they stumbled upon what seems to be a horrifying trend — a rash of killings at karaoke bars centered aroundthe song “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”

The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?

I’ve seen the crowd get rowdy at these events before, but I’ve never seen anyone stabbed (which is surprising, in retrospect).

My guess is that this is simply a fluke. A few coincidental attacks caught someone’s attention, then they were on the lookout for more. Pretty soon you find that the song has a sinister power ascribed to it. Some would beg to differ, though.

Others, noting that other equally popular tunes have not provoked killings, point to the song itself. The lyrics, written by Paul Anka for Mr. Sinatra as an unapologetic summing up of his career, are about a tough guy who “when there was doubt,” simply “ate it up and spit it out.” Butch Albarracin, the owner of Center for Pop, a Manila-based singing school that has propelled the careers of many famous singers, was partial to what he called the “existential explanation.”

“ ‘I did it my way’ — it’s so arrogant,” Mr. Albarracin said. “The lyrics evoke feelings of pride and arrogance in the singer, as if you’re somebody when you’re really nobody. It covers up your failures. That’s why it leads to fights.”

One of the most interesting facets of this karaoke culture is burried deep in the article, though.

But in karaoke bars where one song costs 5 pesos, or a tenth of a dollar, strangers often rub shoulders, sometimes uneasily. A subset of karaoke bars with G.R.O.’s — short for guest relations officers, a euphemism for female prostitutes — often employ gay men, who are seen as neutral, to defuse the undercurrent of tension among the male patrons. Since the gay men are not considered rivals for the women’s attention — or rivals in singing, which karaoke machines score and rank — they can use humor to forestall macho face-offs among the patrons.

In one such bar in Quezon City, next to Manila, patrons sing karaoke at tables on the first floor and can accompany a G.R.O. upstairs. Fights often break out when customers at one table look at another table “the wrong way,” said Mark Lanada, 20, the manager.

“That’s the biggest source of tension,” Mr. Lanada said. “That’s why every place like this has a gay man like me.”

The Devil’s Right Hand

The world needs more and better rhythm guitarists.

If you’ll allow me to get all curmudgeonly on you, I will tell you what’s wrong with music today. On most radio hits, synths and drum machines have taken over most the rhythm duties. Where there is guitar, it lacks personality. Somewhere along the line, we as a society stopped valuing great rhythm guitar work, and we are clearly worse off for it.

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of modern production is a sanding down of the rhythm. Every beat is put into place digitally. A song’s chording is run through compressors and digital overdrive to give it a focused, buzz-saw tone. It’s placement against the bass and drums is deemphasized. We allow our songs to be driven by click-tracks rather than allow it to flow organically from the musicians. It’s clear that this style has lead to the increasing homogeny of the last 15 or so years of American popular music.

If I could give one bit of advice to aspiring guitar players out there, it would be work on your right hand. This is the hand from which the rhythm flows. It can lead the band, controlling the tempo, providing accents and character to the song. Your right hand provides propulsion and defines the beat. And too many guitar players today treat it as an afterthought.

I’d like to live in a world where learning guitar meant spending as much time practicing a Bo Diddley riff as learning scales. Where we recognize that rhythm is the soul of a song. Where you can tune your radio to damn near any station and dance.

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Brisket-Infused Bourbon Is Now A Thing

Thankfully, Austin’s CU-29 opens at 4p, and they’ll be infusing six-liter batches of a mystery bourbon with two pounds of Franklin’s moist for over a month before freezing it, removing the fat, and straining it into what must be the happiest jug in the world.

Goodness knows that BBQ and bourbon whiskey go well together. I, personally, would not have tried serving them in the same glass.

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And The Cycle Will Continue

I am heartbroken at the news that George Zimmerman was acquitted late last night in the murder of Trayvon Martin. I am not a lawyer. I did not follow the ins and outs of the case. But it seems to me as though something is seriously wrong when you find no consequences for shooting an unarmed young boy. The system is showing a deep, destructive rot.

America has shown that we put little thought into the lives of those at the margins. Wearing a certain kind of sweatshirt is now suspicious behavior. Worse, it can be a death sentence.

It didn’t have to be this way. That jury, like so many before, chose to send a message that the fault here lie with the victim. If only he had looked more presentable. If only he had been in his part of town. Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten himself shot. I weep for his family, and for the family of all future Trayvons, who will find out the hard way just where they stand in America today.

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What’s in Prince’s Fridge?

”This stuff is TOO AMAZING. It clarifies your skin and your mind. It is given freely by the yak, so U can truly enjoy it. Great with Chex – Rice Chex, Wheat Chex, whatever!!!”

If, like me, you have always wondered what was in Prince’s fridge, finally it is revealed.

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“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.”

When Musicology came out a decade or so ago, anyone who went to see Prince live on that tour received a copy of the album. It was certainly not the first time an artist got creative in getting in distributing his or her work, but it caught my eye at the time in, after reaching number one on the charts, causing Billboard to reevaluate how they count album sales.

Never being one to do things the way they’ve always been done himself, Jay-Z has now partnered up with Samsung to offer his new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, free to anyone with a Samsung smart phone. Much like Prince before him, the powers that be did not take kindly to having another weird distribution channel.

My first thought was that this is a great way to promote his new work. It gets people talking and puts the music into the hands of hundreds of people who otherwise would probably not have sought it out. But the devil, it turns out, is in the details.

Say you’ve got a Samsung phone and want to hear Magna Carta Holy Grail. How do you go about it? This being 2013, you download an app. This app then digs into your phone in a way that is downright preditory.

It demands permissions, including reading the phone’s status and identity, which made some users, notably the rapper Killer Mike, suspicious: Does Jay-Z really need to log my calls? It also gathers “accounts,” the e-mail addresses and social-media user names connected to the phone. Those permissions are often part of a typical app package. This one got worse.

When installed, it demanded a working log in to Facebook or Twitter and permission to post on the account. “We would like fans to share the content through social networking sites,” a Jay-Z spokeswoman said by e-mail. (E-mail to Samsung Mobile’s customer service address for the app was returned as undeliverable throughout Wednesday.) But the app was more coercive.

Frankly the whole thing skeeves me out. They say that if you’re not paying money for something, you’re not the customer. And if you’re not the customer, then you’re the product being sold. I’ve got nothing against marketin stunts, but this one crosses a line from seeking out new customers to seeking out new product.


Ars Technica has more.

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Ain’t Nobody’s Problem

The Lumineers turned me on to this song during their Bonnaroo set (which was an experience I’ve been meaning to write about). It’s one of those tunes that sounds so natural you’d think it had always existed.

Sawmill Joe – Ain’t Nobody’s Problem from Humble Monster on Vimeo.

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