Monday, June 18, 2007


Keen, Revolution In The Head, Second Life

On Saturday the Los Angeles Times ran my review of Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How the Democratization of the Digital World Is Assaulting Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values. The polemical (and faintly hysterical) subtitle says it all. I began this way:
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away--which is to say, during the loony apex of the 1990s Internet boom--Andrew Keen was an entrepreneur. An Englishman by birth, he relocated to Silicon Valley and in 1996 founded, one of the earliest websites devoted to digital music. Like most such ventures, his crashed and burned before it could earn a dime.

At this point, many a man might have retreated from the Web in a permanent sulk. Not Keen. As late as 2000, he was producing MB5: The Festival for New Media Visionaries (the title alone makes me weak with nostalgia). Four years later, however, the scales finally fell from Keen's eyes.

The occasion was the annual pajama party thrown by multimillionaire Tim O'Reilly, who made a fortune publishing tech-related books and magazines. In earlier years, the 200 celebrants on hand would have been buzzing over the latest wrinkle in e-commerce or broadband penetration. In 2004, the flavor of the month was Web 2.0--a "shiny new version of the Internet," as the author puts it, which stressed the participation of a mass audience. Keen was having none of it. Where his companions saw democratization, he saw a vast throng of blabbering narcissists. Get thee behind me, Facebook!
Again, you can read the rest here. I'd also like to add a tiny codicil, which I omitted from the review proper. Namely: for a book trumpeting the reliability of traditional media over the slovenly standards of the Web, The Cult of the Amateur contains an extraordinary number of typos. Proper names seem like a particular challenge for Keen: meet "Nick Hornsby," "Jurgen Haberman," and "Edward Gibbons," plus music journalist "Ann Power" and media critic "Michael Wolf" (whose name Keen spells three different ways over the course of two pages). Even the pikers at Wikipedia could probably beat this guy at a spelling bee.

Next: while I wasn't looking, Newsday seems to have run my summer reading selection. Since it's fairly brief, I'll paste the whole thing in here:
Nearly four decades after their last collective performance--that would be the scorching guitar roundelay at the end of Abbey Road--the Beatles continue to generate reams of copy. There is gossip, scholarship and an unstoppable flow of memoirs. There's even a minute-by-minute précis of the band's crabby confabulations out at Twickenham during the filming of "Let It Be." No doubt this immense curiosity is connected to the graying of the boomers. The Beatles were their touchstone, their true Penelope, and remain a sort of magical balm to the creaking joints and drooping spirits of that generation, to which I just barely belong. Still, what really matters is the music. And the best guide I have yet encountered, which I'll be cracking out on the beach come July, is Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties.

As the title suggests, there is a thesis afoot here, which has to do with the gradual curdling of Aquarian optimism. But the heart of MacDonald's book is a brilliant, song-by-song analysis of all 188 recorded performances, from the pre-Fab glimmer of "My Bonnie" to the post-mortem letdown of "Real Love." The author, who also published a study of Dmitri Shostakovich, is no breathless hagiographer. Indeed, he slaughters a good many sacred cows along the way. "Here, There and Everywhere" is "chintzy and rather cloying," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" gets flogged for its "dull grandiosity. " On the other hand, he is splendidly articulate about the things he loves, genuflecting before John Lennon's "hallucinogenic ventures into the mental interior" or the hushed, hypnotic exhaustion of "Long, Long, Long. " This ardent and addictive book, which first appeared in 1994, has gone in and out of print since then. The good news: The Chicago Review Press will bring out a new edition in September, to which the only proper response is, "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah."
If you click through here, you can also find recommendations by Kerry Fried, Scott McLemee, Peter Terzian, Claire Dederer, and various other Top Gun types.

Finally, I wrote a short post about the legal woes of Second Life over at NewsQuake. Here's a sample:
Sinrod, a partner at the San Francisco-based firm of Duane Morris, concludes his article with a brief speculation: "Perhaps at some point a virtual judiciary will be set up in a virtual world so that disputes can be decided by judge and jury avatars." Given my own experience rambling around Second Life (which I'll address in a future post), this would be some kind of judiciary, with lots of Goth accessories and the occasional bit of fornication in the jury box.

Hi James, While I think it's totally right not to put the thing about typos in the review I am SO TOTALLY DELIGHTED to know about it here. HA! It's too bad--maybe his copyeditor was terrible (mine was incompetent). Still...

Cheers to you,
Ian Macdonald's book sounds pretty good as you describe it, James (your Amazon skills yet linger; you always make me want to run out and buy whatever book!)...but "Here, There and Everywhere" is "chintzy and rather cloying"? Only to the extent that Sonnets from the Portuguese #43 is, or Chagall's The Birthday. I think that particular song of Sir Paul's is stately and gorgeous as hell...not to mention innovative as a pop offering from 1965-66 (don't forget this was the year in which The Association had a hit with glee club-ish "Cherish"). Side one of Revolver is unthinkable without it. Atmosphere, can't judge a pop record as a's the totality of the artifact (in the context of its era) that counts.

I don't even want to *get* into the While My Guitar Gently Weeps debate...(laugh)...
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