Wednesday, September 17, 2014

9.18.14 I WILL SWALLOW


This article originally appeared in the 9.18.14 issue of Metroland.

This week let’s tear down without building up.

            Let’s talk about U2.

            For years, U2 has been at the forefront of the idiot chatter about the evils of the internet and downloading music.  The band and especially its manager, Paul McGuinness, would regularly sound off about how Google could easily stop “piracy” and how all this business about “free music” was an insult to musicians and was devaluing music, and that music is sacred and yada yada yada.  These pronouncements were some of the most stupid and tone-deaf music-biz drivel out there.  And they were rightfully ignored, because what they said really didn’t matter.

            And so how odd that last week, as part of Apple’s big unveiling of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, here’s U2 playing a new song and then sharing a chummy onstage announcement with Tim Cook that Apple is giving away U2’s new album to everyone who has the iTunes program.  Which is most of us.   And as you are probably painfully aware, this isn’t a situation where you can go to some website and download the album, or buy a newspaper and get a free CD.  Nope, Apple instead dropped the album into everyone’s iTunes cloud account (which many people, including myself, didn’t realize they had), and depending on the settings for the cloud account you may not have known you had, the album typically loaded automatically into your computer or phone.  There.  You own the new U2 album, like it or not.

            The reactions were immediate and damning.  And for good reason.  Nobody wants stuff, any kind of stuff, rammed down their throats.  Nobody wants their music library messed with. That Apple thinks it can just stick stuff on your machine, and that U2, of all people, are cool with it, is just mind-bogglingly wrong.  As one commentator said: a gift on my doorstep is one thing. A gift that you left in my house, after letting yourself in, is something different.”  Apple’s notion of personal privacy appears to be different than ours.

            And we learn that a great many younger folk have no idea who U2 even is.  The website whoisu2.com contains thousands of tweets from outraged teenagers around the world, asking who is U2 and why are they (or him, or it) on my phone?  It’s hysterically funny.  This is not how one builds a fan base. 

            U2’s reaction has been clueless.  The band’s new manager Guy Oseary (McGuiness retired last year, replaced with this young guy who used to work with Madonna, which ought to tell you something) said: “If you don’t like this gift, you should delete it.”  Duh, right.  Except apparently getting rid of the album isn’t that easy. Online how-to articles popped up with titles like How To Get That Awful U2 Album Off Your Computer; after a few days, Apple mercifully issued a one-step removal patch so folks could ditch the album from their phones and computers.

            Bono, ever prone to the misdirected faux-heroic statement, said this: "For the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way: The blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail."  How very nice.  And to the allegation that all of this flies in the face of U2’s prior damning of free music?  Why, the album isn’t free, you see, because U2 got paid for it.  The latest estimate I’ve seen is that Apple paid U2 120 million dollars for the right to infect your devices with the U2 album.  That’s a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears, Bono.  And it’s still free music, dude.  To everybody but you.

            What a ridiculous, avoidable, bone-headed situation.  I suppose that it’s great that U2 got paid, although that’s an obscene amount of money for an album, especially these days.  Innovative ways of getting music into consumers’ hands is good, too.  But not like this.  From Apple’s perspective, what were they thinking?  They’re still trying to deal with the fall-out from the massive hack of photos from iCloud a couple of weeks ago and now they want to demonstrate how easy it really is?  And U2 is cool with having their precious, sacred music reduced in people’s eyes to a nasty computer virus?

            Don’t get me wrong.  I love Apple, I use their stuff and wouldn’t think of switching.  Not yet anyway.  And I generally like U2, have liked them since I saw their very first US appearance at the Ritz in NYC in 1980.  I don’t even mind Bono’s bloviating to world leaders about world hunger and stuff.  I do object, however, to those goofy glasses he wears, those plastic things that look like those big sun-glassy things old ladies wear over their glasses.  What’s up with those?

            But this was just about the dumbest thing either Apple or U2 have ever done.  And that’s saying something.  Nothing good will come of this, except that something like this will never happen again.  And both Apple and U2 got some ‘splainin to do.


Paul Rapp is a frisky local entertainment attorney who would swing baseball bats on TV whilst telling you how great he is if he thought it would do any good.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

9.4.14 WHAT'S FAPPENING


This article originally appeared in the 9.4.14 issue of Metroland.

Let’s talk about naked ladies on the internet!  You already know about the big “leak” of “personal” photographs of various (mostly) young actresses and you probably already have a strong opinion about it.  As usual, this has been misreported by Big Media and the critical issues largely overlooked or obfuscated because... well, because NAKED LADIES ON THE INTERNET.

            Now, it’s my solemn duty as an alternative media journalist to bring you the real story, the whole, unvarnished truth.  Therefore, I’ve taken it upon myself to thoroughly research this story.  To leave no stone unturned, to look down every side street, and to be very, very, very deliberate and contemplative with every shred of evidence that I find.  I do this so you don’t have to.  You’re so very welcome.

            OK.  So over the weekend it was reported that about 100 photographs of a dozen or so young actresses had been put up on the internet.  The photos range from naked selfies to faux-cheesecake to full-on raunchy.  The biggest name, the headline name, was Jennifer Lawrence, but there are also pics of Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst (what’s she doing here?  She’s 32!) and a bunch of other attractive young women who are apparently famous for movies and TV shows or something. 

            It was first reported that these pics were released by “Anonymous” and 4Chan, who had “exploited a vulnerability” in Apple’s iCloud service.  There’s a lot wrong with this statement.  First, 4Chan is not a person, but a chat-room / posting board that caters largely to geeks and hackers.  Second, “Anonymous” is the name given to anyone posting on 4Chan who doesn’t want to use a handle, which is most of the people posting there.  There are a lot of Anonymouses on 4Chan.  Third, a number of the “victims” are shown taking selfies with non-Apple devices, so the idea that Apple was a only culprit here is a little problematic.

            As would be expected, all hell breaks loose.  Jennifer Lawrence’s publicist quickly announced that most of the photos were real, and bemoaned the egregious invasion of Lawrence’s privacy.  Others said that their photos were fakes, or were photos of someone else.  Some guy near Atlanta got named as the culprit and he immediately said that no, he had found the pics on an obscure posting site called AnonIB and reposted one of them on Reddit while trying to sell the rest.  Which makes him, if anything, creepier that the original poster.

            Then there were reports that the original poster had surfaced on AnonIB, saying that he had hundreds more photos and videos, that he had not acted alone, and that he was “changing locations.”  This, combined with reports that Jennifer Lawrence had asked the FBI to investigate translated to Big Media headlines that the hacker was on the run and the FBI was hot on his trail!   It’s like cops and robbers!

            The whack-a-mole game was in full force as the pics appeared and disappeared around the internet.  Twitter announced it would delete any reposts of the pics, which seems fine until you realize that someone at Twitter is apparently looking at every post you make.  The fact is that all of these photos are now all over the internet and will stay there forever.  That’s the way of the virtual world.

            Then Apple announced that what vulnerabilities might exist in iCloud weren’t exploited by the hackers, leaving it likely that the photos were obtained the old-fashioned way, by the hacker(s) figuring someone’s online account name, then figuring out the password, then picking through the library for the good stuff.

            And so the debate starts.  Some people likened it to rape, which it’s not.  Others blamed the “victims”, which is, for the most part, stupid.  Over at 4Chan (which is kind of like an on-line paint-peeling drunken frat party for young disaffected nerds) a similar debate rages: some posters were aghast and pledged to help find the hackers, others begged the hacker to post more photos.  There were several 4Chan posts claiming to be from media outlets asking for interviews (which may or not be real) and some purporting to be from unnamed actresses offering to pay for their pics not to be posted (which are almost certainly not real).

            What’s happening is no different then what’s been happening for as long as there have been means of taking pictures: the stuff gets out.  From passed-around blurry Super-8’s of Marilyn Monroe to Celebrity Skin to stolen video-cassettes of Pamela Sue Anderson and Paris Hilton to this, it’s varying combinations of innocence, sloppiness, bad luck (on the part of the “victims”), along with equal measures of sleaziness, greed, ingenuity and sometimes vengefulness on the part of the perpetrators.  It is as inevitable as it is disgusting and sad.

            To be sure, one way to make sure this doesn’t happen to you is to never have yourself recorded doing something “compromising.” Duh?  And if you do, then you have to be vigilant: most cloud services and storage devices allow encryption, multiple passwords, and other security features that would have made these latest hacks impossible.  And which will keep your naughty bits safe until the next level of hack-dom comes around.


Paul Rapp is a genteel entertainment lawyer who avoids naked mirror selfies, opting instead for naked selfie stick-figure drawings, which he is happy to share upon request.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

8.21.14 AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT A CONCERT


This article originally appeared in the 8.21.14 issue of Metroland.

Until fairly recently I didn’t get the whole house concert thing; at least I didn’t think it was for me.  The idea of going to somebody’s home for a private concert struck me as something akin to a horrible hippie pot-luck dinner.  I figured the performers were typically sensitive folkies, playing the kind of show that makes me want to punch a stranger and then go blast Raw Power at full volume in my car all the way home.  This sort of thing is fine for some people, and god knows having more places where musicians can play and make some money is a good thing.  But house concerts seemed way too sharing and caring and gentle and patchouli-soaked for this old rocker.

            Then I ran into The Great Sean Rowe playing last year at the Dreamaway Lodge.  My girlfriend Terri was going bonkers over him, naturally, and I mentioned that maybe he’d come play at her house.  She damn near passed out.  I asked Sean, he was game, we set a date, and voila, we’re doing a house concert.  And we just did another one with Sean (who just did a cross-country house concert tour while waiting for his new album to drop) a couple weeks ago.   We invited a bunch of people, borrowed some chairs, put out some wine and beer, Sean rocked severely, and we had ourselves a time.

            It appears not everybody understands that a house concert is a thing, and a very different thing than a house party. Lots of people we invited didn’t respond, and maybe they thought it was weird and off-putting to be invited to someone’s house and asked to donate $25 for a musical performance.   A number of people wrote back and said they were coming, but didn’t send in their money as they were asked to, and then canceled at the last minute.  Like you might do for a party.  The thing is, it’s maddening because there are a very limited number of seats (we had room for 30), the idea is to get the musician paid, and these last minute cancellations screw up the works.  They’re unintentionally (giving the last minute balers the benefit of the doubt) rude and annoying.

            My friend Doug, who’s been putting on the great Billsville house concerts in and around Williamstown for a couple of years, explained it best.  He gets acts that he and his wife would otherwise go to see in a club.  If they went to a club, they’d have to get a sitter, buy tickets, drive to the club (usually Northampton or Albany), probably have dinner and drinks somewhere, maybe stay in a hotel, and drive home.  We’re talking at least hundred bucks here, and probably more.  So instead they have the musicians come to their house, feed them, let them stay overnight, invite a bunch of friends over, and have a totally different, infinitely richer and personal experience than the alternative.  Doug told me that often after a show the musicians stay up and jam with his budding-musician kids.  What could be better than that?

            And for national or regional acts at a certain level, house concerts make a ton of sense.  First, you’re gigging at somebody’s house, usually a pretty nice house, with running hot and cold water in the private bathroom.  And a nice room to change in.  If you’ve ever gigged out in club-land, you know these things aren’t always there.  You get fed nice homemade food, not soul-killing road food.  You get to sleep in a nice bed, not stuck with your three band-mates in a Motel 6 by the expressway.  You’re on at 8, off by 9:30 and you get to hang out with nice people in a nice house.   And the money’s good!  Figure 30 people at $25 each and figure most of them will buy some merch to remember the night by.  You can easily clear $1000, which ain’t bad scratch these days for working musicians.

            The audience is invite-only; there’s no public advertising or announcements, so you’re not diluting the local market (and getting the attention of the creeps at ASCAP).  And Sean tells me that usually two-thirds to three-quarters of the people coming to house concerts have never heard the act before—they’re friends with the hosts or are brought to the concert by a date.  The people get an intense and intimate experience, and if the performer does his or her job right, the folks at the house concert will talk it up and come out and bring friends the next time the performer does a “legit” gig in town.

            So if you’re inclined to do something like this, just do it.  You’ll be surprised at the caliber of talent that will gladly come play at your house.  And if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a house concert, go, and understand it ain’t a party, it’s an event.  And more than likely a very, very special event.


Paul Rapp is an entertainment attorney in the Berkshires who hopes to see all of you at his band Blotto’s gigs tonight at the Low Beat and Saturday at the Cutting Room in Manhattan.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

8.7.14 BLEW NOTE


This article originally appeared in the 8.7.14 issue of Metroland.


            Last week some truly depressing quotes from the great jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins started popping up online.  They were coming from a New Yorker article entitled “Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words.”  The entire article was a series of quotes, including:

Jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with. The band starts a song, but then everything falls apart and the musicians just play whatever they want for as long they can stand it.

I really don’t know why I keep doing this. Inertia, I guess. Once you get stuck in a rut, it’s difficult to pull yourself out, even if you hate every minute of it. Maybe I’m just a coward.

Some of my recordings are in the Library of Congress. That’s idiotic. They ought to burn that building to the ground. I hate music. I wasted my life.

            None of this remotely jibed with the little bit I knew about Sonny Rollins, which was that he was a decent and spiritual man.  Pretty quickly I learned, by reading an angry blog post, that this was supposed to be a humor piece, written by someone calling himself “Django Gold”, who was described in his byline as a senior writer for The Onion.

            I guess some people think this piece is funny.  But a lot more people thought it was for real, as the quotes continued zinging through cyberspace, not as jokes, but as things Sonny Rollins actually said.  Monday Rollins did a 30-minute live webcast from his home in Woodstock, which you can see now on YouTube and which I highly recommend (search for “The Real Sonny Rollins”).   He passionately and comprehensively defended jazz, first pointing out that he was hurt over the fact that young jazz musicians might read the piece and stop practicing.  “The people who wrote this thing are trying to kill jazz, but you can’t kill a spirit.”  He said he loved comedians Bob and Ray and that he subscribed to Mad Magazine.  He quoted Churchill and Noam Chomsky.  He was beautiful.

            The New Yorker piece was a disgrace, and “Django Gold” is a royal asshole.  This piece wouldn’t have run in The Onion, because it truly isn’t funny.  And they can’t hide behind the claim that it’s satire.  It’s not.  Satire is a literary device by which someone’s  weaknesses or other bad qualities are exposed.   This didn’t do anything but attack Sonny Rollins and jazz.  Exactly what “bad qualities” does Sonny Rollins have that were “exposed” by the article?  None!  As jazz-man Nicholas Payton said on his blog “it’s nerdy white-boy humor.”  Except it’s not humor, but rather a putrid character assassination that might make some immature hipster douchebags feel good about themselves because they recognize references to Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, The 3 Deuces, and the Montreax Jazz Festival.

            Sonny Rollins could easily sue the bejesus out of the New Yorker and “Django Gold.”  And he should.  He should sue to punish them, and even more importantly to clear his name.  Defamation consists of (a) the utterance or publication of something about someone that’s not true; (b) the speaker’s knowledge of the untruth; and (c) damage to the reputation of the subject.  There’s a satire exception if the lies are so outlandish that a “reasonable person” would conclude that they can’t be true.  And that’s not the case here.  It wasn’t for me, and it wasn’t for a ton of people, including a lot of people who know a heck of a lot more than me about jazz and Sonny Rollins.  This was defamation, pure and simple.

            Contrast this situation to our friends (and my clients) The Yes Men, who issue phony press releases and impersonate governmental and corporate officials proclaiming things like Dow Chemical is going spend a billion dollars cleaning up Bhopal, or that the World Bank is shutting down because it realized it was harming third-world countries.  The corporations and governments are then forced to deny these things, and often The Yes Men issue phony denials first.   The Yes Men’s announcements are often reported as real news.  Are these things defamatory?  Technically maybe, but the effectiveness of the stunts rely on people believing their outlandish claims, which then forces the targets’ denials (like Dow Chemical having to state that it’s not going to clean up Bhopal).  The end result is satire’s purpose, to expose the truth.   And it’s hard to argue that the truth could harm a target’s reputation.

            The fact is that the Yes Men are pretty much insulated from lawsuits because of the “Streisand Effect” – the notion that a lawsuit and the attendant publicity would trumpet the Yes Men’s message and notoriety even more loudly, and embarrass the target even more, no matter what the outcome of the lawsuit.
           
            Which is exactly why Sonny Rollins ought to sue: the Streisand Effect will work in his favor, as people reading about the lawsuit will come to learn that he didn’t say what the New Yorker has him saying.  And people will also learn what hideous fuckheads “Django Gold” and the editors at the New Yorker are.

Paul Rapp is a local IP attorney who dangles participles as naturally as he breathes.