A Horrible Grammatical Mistake That Is Becoming Fashionable, and Therefore Must Be Stopped.

In the last year, I’ve heard this more and more from young adults: Her and me went to the movie. Her and David are dating. Susan and him bought a house.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the young adults talking this way were high-school dropouts. They’re not. They’re college graduates, and they have to know better. I know they’ve been taught better.

That’s why it’s clear to me that this is not a matter of ignorance, but of style. This horrible grammar—this use of the objective case pronoun when the subjective case is correct—is being chosen, deliberately, by young educated people, because it sounds better to them.

The subjective case pronoun is correct in each of the above instances. She and I went to the movie. She and David are dating. Susan and he bought a house. The pronouns are subjects in those sentences, the verbs are predicates. You use the subjective case. It’s a no-brainer.

But if you, an educated young adult, have trouble remembering the logic, and need a handy rule-of-thumb, just imagine using only one pronoun. Would you say, “Me went to the movie…Her went to the movie…Her is dating….Him bought a house?” No, you wouldn’t. It sounds awful.

So is what you’re saying. Stop it.

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The Last Record Store in America.

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A country of 300 million people deserves more than one record store. On the other hand, the last one left standing, Amoeba Records, is a doozy.

Let me define my terms. By “record store,” I mean a store that physically exists someplace, selling recorded physical discs of music (CDs and/or LPs) across all genres, with deep selection in each genre. The kind of store Tower Records used to be, or Rose Records in Chicago, or the original Sam Goody’s in New York. It takes a lot of real estate to be such a store. You can’t hope to have great selection in every style of music without a lot of square footage at your disposal. On the other hand, square footage isn’t enough. You need store buyers for the various departments who really know their genres — what’s been released, what’s going to be released, what’s barely been released somewhere else in the world — and who know what will turn on enthusiasts of those genres. You can’t get there if the buyer for the hip hop department is the same guy who buys for the shows and vocals department. You need separate experts.amoeba-records-sales-floor

Once you have that, you have the makings of electricity. When you walk into Amoeba on Sunset in LA, you instantly feel it. The electricity of possibility: the chance you will find a CD you never knew existed which you must possess now, or a CD you knew existed but never thought you’d see. The electricity that makes you spend more money than you went in thinking you would. It doesn’t happen online. That electricity is what disappeared when record stores disappeared, which is why the record business is disappearing. (Just take a look at the statistics to see if online and download sales increases combined have made up the decline in brick-and-mortar sales. They haven’t; not even close.)

In the electrified/adrenalized state their huge, miles-of-aisles store put me in (it may even have to do with the height of their ceiling, which creates the impression of millions of cubic feet — why that should matter I don’t know, but it does) I bought many CDs at Amoeba on a recent visit. Possibly all of them are widely available online, where I do a lot of my shopping these days. The point is I never did buy them online. It took seeing them to make me need them. That’s why the death of brick-and-mortar has been the death of recorded music.

It so happens that Amoeba stocks new and used CDs. But cleverly, they’ve created a store experience that doesn’t present that way (even if their business card does). When I go into Amoeba, I don’t think of it as a “new and used CD store,” I think of it as a store that has amassed a truly interesting collection on my behalf (without prejudice about such distinctions as “new” and “used”), a collection that earns my gratitude. How Amoeba has managed to create the personality of a just-plain-terrific record store has a lot to do amoeba-records-checkoutwith retail magic that is an art, requiring talent not possessed by many, but part of it is that they don’t seem to carry a used CD because it’s cheaper (though it is) — they only carry it if it makes their inventory more interesting.

There are Amoebas in San Francisco and Berkeley, but I haven’t been to them. One day I hope to get to the Princeton Record Exchange in New Jersey, which others rave about in the same way I rave about Amoeba. As long as there is one Amoeba somewhere, life as I’ve known it still exists, and I can go on.amoeba-business-card


Imprisoned in Shining Armor.

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Robert Goulet was a good exponent of the booming baritone theatrical style, and not without a sense of humor even in his earliest recorded performances. I have in mind his “C’est Moi” from the Camelot original cast recording. (Click here to hear an excerpt.) The humor in that song requires Lancelot to display an enormous vanity of which he is utterly unselfaware; therefore the actor who portrays and sings him (if he is to give an intelligent performance) has to be very aware of the human tendency toward this foible, yet subtle camelot-ocr.jpgenough not to telegraph his awareness. (If we sensed the actor was unaware of the irony in the song, we might assume he was as stupid as Lancelot, which would be unfunny and unappealing; and if we sensed him trying too hard to signal that he was in on the joke, that would also destroy the humor. So a very fine line must be trod, which Goulet did well. To do all that, and sing gloriously–well, now you know why the role took him from complete unknown to major star.)

The thing his illness makes me feel right now is that it’s a shame that Goulet couldn’t go on doing what he did well, and instead took on so many parts in the last thirty years in which he denigrated himself and his talents. (Here’s an article from 1996 that gives but one example, but we all remember many of them; Goulet as jerk, self-admitted buffoon, outmoded hack, etc.) In a weird way, it all came out of that very first song, “C’est Moi.” Except now he asked us to believe, for the sake of a laugh, that he was the impossibly vain and stupid Lancelot. If he couldn’t get our respect, he was willing to settle for our derision. Whether the fault was his or the world’s, there should have been a better seat at the round table for him than that.


The Best Movie of 2006 That Wasn’t Called “The Lives of Others.”

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Mike Judge is a comic visionary. His animation work succeeds commercially on TV (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill), koh2005_v6f_432.jpgbut for some reason, his live action films, which are really good, fail commercially in theaters. That was the case with the infinitely rewatchable Office Space (which gained an audience only after it showed up on video and cable). But his 2006 movie Idiocracy hit new lows of commercial failurosity. In five weeks of theatrical release, it did a grand total of $438,653 at the box office, according to the imdb. As Beavis or Butthead might say, “That sucks.”

But like Office Space, Idiocracy could get discovered on video and cable. It ought to be. It’s a funnier’n shit comedy about what happens when all the smart people defer having children and all the stupid people breed like rabbits. You get a world like the one in Idiocracy, five hundred years down the road from our own time, in which the average Joe from 2005 is the smartest guy on the planet.

The first terrifying thing about Idiocracy is that it feels true; the nightmare it imagines feels like a prescient prediction of our destiny. The second terrifying thing is that it makes you realize we’re just about there, and that the seeds of stupidworld 2500 are all around us.

There hasn’t been social satire on the screen this sharp in a long time. But the movie’s undercurrent of despair may be why Fox dumped it in theaters without promotion, and why people stayed away in droves. We can’t handle the truth.

See it. And then, if you’re smart and still of breeding age, have kids. You may be our last hope.

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Music Is Over.

The Catch 22 of online commerce, when it comes to buying music, is that it makes things easier to find once you know you’re looking for them, but much harder to happen across accidentally. That’s what made Tower Records (and stores of that ilk, like Virgin) so great. They were grand intoxicating bazaars, in which you never knew what you would find, but in which you knew you’d find it. These stores, which are gone or going (Tower is dead and Virgins are closing nationwide), served an educative function as well as a commercial one. With their huge displays of new releases, their in-store CD play, their label co-op ad deals, they weren’t just where you went to buy music—they were where you found out about it.

I don’t see any online merchant or download source filling the “intoxicating bazaar” role that Tower, Virgin, world_music_tower8232003.jpgand others before them (like Rose Records in Chicago) filled so well. And without that, I wonder why the record labels even bother to continue to release anything. New releases now (unless they are by the very most popular country and hiphop artists carried in Walmart, Target, and Best Buy) redefine what it means to be a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear. My bet is that in just a few years more time the labels will have realized the futility of releasing anything new. Most labels, in fact, will have ceased to exist.

But Amazon and iTunes aren’t just failing to fill the void in terms of the educative function; they’re also not filling the void in sales. A recent article on the BBC’s website reveals that CD sales in the U.S. fell 20% last year, and even with the gain in album sales from digital downloads, overall U.S. album sales were still down 10%. People aren’t interested in buying music anymore, and partly that’s because there’s no place real to buy it.

For an analogy, let’s stroll momentarily into the world of books. Let’s imagine that the Barnes & Nobles and Borders have vanished from the face of the earth, just as Tower did and Virgin is doing. Would the major book publishers survive that? I think not. And the reason wouldn’t be just the loss of sales that Borders and B&N account for. The reason is that the existence of these stores is what creates an interest in books among the public. Those stores, those buildings that actually exist every few blocks and that you can walk into, create a “there” there that puts books into the public mind. People want books partly because there’s a Borders or a Barnes & Noble every few blocks to remind them that they do!

Sometimes to occupy mental real estate in the consumer’s mind, there’s no substitute for real estate.

If one thinks that book publishing could survive in a world in which the only places to buy books were Amazon and digital downloads, then one might think the music business can survive, too. But I don’t think the former, and I don’t think the latter.

So—let the record labels die, right? They were corrupt, and they foisted a bunch of crap on us for years anyway, right? Yes. rca-dog.jpgBut they also did something else, something that won’t be possible without them. They presented us with iconic stars of undeniable greatness. Sinatra. Peggy Lee. Ella. Elvis. The Beatles. On and on.

They searched the nation for talent, and then they functioned as a filter, or a funnel, so that only the very greatest talent came out the other end. We had a national audience, then, too, that financed this effort. Today, we have 250 million audiences of one, each at his or her laptop. And 250 million artists, all as capable as the next one with their Korgs and their ProTools of uploading their music into the national mix.

But where can the feedback to artists come from? What can be the source for the inspiration and the soul-sustenance an artist needs when there is no cohesive audience? The artist will know she made a sound only because $4.50 showed up in her paypal account when two kids in Vermont and one in Utah downloaded her song. But paypal is the only way she’ll know. And so, without soul-sustenance, and the mass approval (and the hope for mass approval) that fuels ambition, we won’t have any great, iconic artists. Just an infinite number of mediocre ones, reaching an infinite number of tiny audiences. When the great artists have disappeared (because nobody would be crazy enough to put in a lifetime of work to achieve great artistry in order to reach three people), all we’ll have are the kind of artists who are satisfied to reach three people.

Peggy Lee was born Norma Delores Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota. I’m trying to imagine a young Norma Delores Egstrom growing up on those lonely plains today. young-peggy2.jpgInstead of thrilling to the sounds of the big bands coming in over the radio, knowing she’s listening to the same broadcast that people are hearing coast to coast, knowing this connects her to that larger world, one which she is determined to be part of some day, she is in her room downloading tunes. And she stays there.