Sunday, October 26, 2008

Adult Indie Contemporary Balkanization

The mix of music at Uncommon Ground last weekend: Andrew Bird, Tom Yorke, Sufjan Stevens, The Shins. It's cozy and closer to 40 then 30. It's hip, too, or definitely still wants to me. The flow of this mix is predicable though and I wouldn't mind a surprise or two. But as a culinary soundtrack and general ambiance generator, it does a perfectly agreeable job.

Who are we missing here? Wilco. Nick Drake. Cat Power. Iron & Wine. The New Pornographers. M. Ward. The Roots or Common or Erykah Badu. Or The Roots feat. Erykah Badu. Al Green with the Roots as his backing band. Yo La Tengo. TV On The Radio. The Flaming Lips. Feist. Who else can I balkanize into the mix?

I'm making a sweeping generalization here, but I'd guess that most of the folks buying the above albums or heading out to see these artists live are over 30. And probably not much older then 40. What other demographics? Predominately white. Over half married and with children. More then 2/3 with college educations, a quarter with a grad school degree. Eat out frequently. Left leaning. Still buy CD's but increasingly comfortable with downloading.

For the most part, that's me. But I haven't bought a CD in over a year.

October's Gonna Go Out Like That

If October goes out like Skilling and his meteorological gang at the Tribune are currently predicting,
then I may very well have to help Abby eat some of her Halloween candy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Name For Late October

"Daddy, Mommy usually puts a little olive oil in that," Abby says to me as she hands over a bottle of straight up cooking oil she's pulled from the lazy Susan while I'm busying about making us some oatmeal this afternoon. I adore how she's teaching me how to cook, just like her Mom.

That above photo of Abby and me plays tricks with time. It's cliche to say children cause time to fly, but until I had actually lived this cliche myself I always met the sentiment with a shrug. What's most surprising is witnessing just how fast a child really does grow, both physically and cognitively. It's ridiculously fast. It was only a couple years ago that Abby was just beginning to talk. She had no real desire to walk, but man could she crawl. Now, of course, she's helping me cook oatmeal at lunch, offering helpful cooking hints and all the while pretending to be a mermaid.

We're a month out now from the baby's due date. Additionally, Cathy and I reached name consensus this morning just before she left for work. Today we named her. A name free of any bad associations and with its own family folklore.

This is my favorite picture from the first few hours after Abby was born almost 3 years ago:

Both my girls looking beautiful.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Death And All His Literary Friends

I've had a pretty good run of fiction reading of late, reading new authors whose books have sat neglected and forlorn on my shelves. It's not their fault that I haven't read them until recently. Reading takes time. And while I'm reading, I'm also impulsively checking Library shelves, Amazon's catalog or a bookstores latest display. I'm using my library or credit card and surrounding myself with more words then I can keep up with. That's just fine. I happily admit to my book fetish, to my conspicuous consumption of pulp, a love bordering on awe for finely chiseled sentences laid out one after another. No doubt part of that fetish is delayed gratification. What will I read next? What should I save for later?

There's something intensely gratifying about stockpiling a small library of unread books. Or maybe it's just the end result of something impulsive, this insatiable need to have an abundance of books around me. Or maybe it's just odd. Sometimes I'll pick one of those unread books off the shelf and leaf through it, pausing to read a passage at random. I adore the luxury of those books, their covers still uncreased. Choosing what to read next is made simple. All these unread books have already gone through the filters of my own bias, my own literary predispositions. They all look like they could be very, very good. The reviews I read certainly sold me. Or the other books I've read by that particular author were amazing. Or, why not? if it won the National Critics Award, the Pulitzer, the Booker Prize, I'll give it a try. Sometimes, rarely, I'm so shallow as to allow a books cover or publishing company or its prominent New York Times Book Review blurb to persuade me of its possible merit.

And lately, almost everything I've been choosing has been wonderful. And gummed up with death. At least, what's governed the narrative of the fiction I've read of late and given it a special urgency or a palpable air of melancholy can be directly attributed to deaths all encompassing thematic shrug. In Cormac McCarthy's The Road, for example, death is everywhere. In grisly basements scenes, burned out forests and most devastatingly of all, the novels heartbreaking end. In Jose Saramago's Blindness death is again in a grisly basement, lingering in the hallways of an overcrowded asylum and promising to snuff out all of humanity two opaque eyes at a time. In Colm Toibin's The Master, death intrudes on solitude and after much introspection becomes material for the novels of Henry James. (Sounds dull, but it's anything but.) And lastly, in the book I just finished reading, The Line of Beauty, because the protagonist is so young, so coked up and alive and surrounded by the pampered privelege of Thatcher's ruling Tories, death is nowhere. At least not until the very end. Then it intrudes and causes the rather spectacular downfall of our protagonist in the form of AIDS.

And now I've gone and picked up Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs because I need something autumnal, the fall equivalent of a good beach read. I've never read any of his other books, but I know Russo sets most of them in small towns. Bridge of Sighs, not surprisingly then, is set in upstate New York. I'm about 100 pages in and the jury is still out. Russo has something, enough of a command of his storytelling to keep me hooked if not consistently engaged. But death, nonetheless has already been introduced. 'Tis the season, I suppose.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Moving Beyond Local Weather, Traffic and Crime

One of more interesting side effects of traditional media's current struggles (declining subscriptions/viewership, fragmenting audiences, decreased ad revenue and, hence, operating budgets) is a resurgence of interest and discussion about local news coverage. While many local newspapers are, among other cost-cutting steps, having to scale back on overseas news-gathering bureaus, relying more and more on the outsourced reporting of Reuters and the Associated Press, there's an optimism, forced or genuine I'm not entirely sure, in their dedication and ability to report on local matters in a way that other news outfits (the nationals like New York Times or USA Today) simply can't. Granted, this local news isn't sexy, it's not creating the news cycle narratives like the nationals are able to, but I do feel like I've read and heard numerous local newsroom representatives and analysts (columnists, editors, bearded professors) waxing about how "nobody can provide the kind of local coverage like we can."

A whole page dedicated to the weather? Tom Skilling's got us covered at the Tribune. Reviews on the bands playing next week? the Reader's got a new pullout section! Want to know about the latest accessory, gadget or hip new restaurant? Time's Out Chicago's proven system of operation is ready with a blurb. The latest budget crisis, South Side shooting or North Side sexual assault? The Sun-Times Metro section.

Especially in urban areas, people are turning to a variety of sources--print, radio, TV, online, to get their fill of local news coverage. Personally, I depend on the local coverage provided by the likes of the Reader, the Tribunes Metro section (or did that morph or merge into something else entirely in their new design upgrade?), Time Out Chicago, online sources like Gapers Block and aggregators like EveryBlock and Chicago. Taken together, these sources help me with understanding and more fully engaging in what's happening around me. I also watch a smattering of local TV news in the morning and at lunch. It's focus can be distilled down to local weather, traffic, sports, crime and entertainment offerings. There's not much of merit, though PBS Chicago does have some admirable Chicago based programming, key among them being Check Please with sommelier Alpana Singh.

And joining these more established media sources in their local reporting are millions of amateurs. I find that tremendously heartening. A nascent citizen-based journalism/grassroots media movement is afoot. These are people, many without any journalistic training, who are leveraging social media tools to offer expanded or more intimate local news and human-interest coverage. More often then not, this grassroots media is print based. Increasingly, however, my own interest lies with those who are using video to create and tell interesting/informative local stories. What I want to know more about are the various platforms they're distributing these stories on. Yes, YouTube is one way to distribute, and studies show that, especially amongst younger audiences (though trending to older demographics as well), there's been a re-allocation of how we spend our media time. Younger audiences, for example, don't just consume media through the more traditional outlets of print, TV and radio, but via platforms like YouTube. Amateur content is being created and others are actively consuming it. But YouTube is more free-form, its mission is more anything goes, and so I'm increasingly interested in those distribution platforms or organizations that seek to cover more hyper-local human interest stories or provide more civic-minded content as well as have missions that include training people with how to use the cheap tools at their disposal to create meaningful content and ensuring it finds a broader audience.

I'm most interested in how public libraries can do just this.

I suppose what I'm talking about can be (and has been) called hyper-local content, stories about developments, events or people in communities that all demographics have a hunger for but are rarely, if ever, covered by traditional news outlets. Online, as discussed, it one distribution platform that folks have been using, but increasingly telecommunication companies like Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner are competing to provide hyper-local news via their cable outlets. In a paper published earlier this year, Adam Thieren and Grant Eskelsen wrote:

Many cable television providers have jumped into the local TV news business and provide a wide variety of local public affairs programming. A 2004 report by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation (RTNDF) found that “millions of Americans can now tune in to regional and local news on more than 30 cable channels across the country.” The RTNDF found that these local and regional cable TV news and public affairs channels provide “non-stop local news” that is “as local as local news can get.”

Are they creating their own content, or are they open to the kind of content a library might produce? And just what would a library produce? Well, this: