Edition I - 2024
Pretty good year for unions, even those representing the most esoteric of our fellow workers: actors and writers.
It is difficult to really quantify the contributions of Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), so it is to the credit of their representative negotiators that they scored the wins they did in this long strike year.
Truth is, producers of movies and television, and publishers of books, don't really need "us" anymore. As the WGA contract neared its end earlier this year, it appeared that artificial intelligence had arrived, and the entire oeuvre and human contribution in words could be scraped for meaning, tone, style, and regurgitated in ways at least as vibrant as those available through any new human contributor (writer).
About half way through 2023, it became apparent that AI was not yet as powerful as initially feared, and that probably saved the WGA and the SAG-AFTRA membership until next contract (May 1, 2026 for the WGA). We are on life support, but in the recent renegotation WGA members won the following:
The WGA strike lasted for 101 days.
SAG-AFTRA members are faced with exactly the same future as WGA members. (Did you ever see Soylent Green? Baked just right, even the lowest cut of actor tastes just fine!) People can now be sampled and their likenesses and behaviors (acting skills) stamped as if they are real human beings, and as needed. It is a producer's dream come true, a director's fantasy. The new contract is a reprieve for actors, likely delaying their elimination until 2026. Such labor contracts are typically good for three years, and the last SAG contract expired on June 30, 2023.
SAG-AFTRA managed to gain these advantages:
See the previous edition for an overview of the employers referenced in the WGA and SAG-AFTRA negotiations.
That diversity thing, with regard to the casting of film and TV products, has been a point of controversy among everyone but "under-represented" actors. At issue is the idea of "cultural appropriation", and in some cases historical accuracy. Casting can feel a little like social engineering, when well-established figures in history or fiction are "re-represented" as someting other than how they were created.
Does that help? Who does that help?
Why not just create new stories, with new characters, in ways flavored to whatever the creators of these things might want?
We humans seem to have exhausted our capacity to invent anything meaningfully new. AI is getting better every day.
It'll come up with something for us.
Do you ever listen to podcast?
According to a site called Podcast Host: "Listenership continues to grow, with a 9% climb over the past three years! On top of this data, the Share of Ear study by Edison Research indicates that podcasts now occupy 9% of Americans' total audio consumption time, with an all-time high 31% of all spoken word audio listening going to podcasts."
Here is a table charting podcast growth since 2019.
So what are all these people watching? It is a lineup of comedy, crime, and conspiracy, judging by these top tens:
For the last few years, every time you opened up a YouTube music education video you got a lecture on the "circle of fifths". That's a concept that began to take form in ancient Mesopotamia, found on clay tablets from 4,500 years ago. The Greeks took musical scales to a higher level, exploring the Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian modes, and sophistication just continued to develop, largely around codification of these modes. Music theorist Heinrich Schütz came up with the "circle of fifths" in 1657 to explain the rules of harmony and modulation in music.
The circle of flats and sharps intrigued the intellectuals among the legions of music students who followed, though while handy the concept was invisible to additional legions of amateur players who simply used their ears and followed their explorative whims, and copied records to develop their chops.
Then, some bewildered musical ape tossed his instrument high into the air above him, where it turned into an Arthur C. Clarke thing, a tool, like a spacecraft, that transcended the need for knowledge of anything, substituting instead the tools of Pan, that musical god, who could create entire musical soundscapes without having to know a thing about what makes space travel possible, or even worthwhile. We have the following video demonstration of our new musical reality, which is simply a menu at a well-stocked restaurant of cooking tools and sound.
I just happened to run across this wonderful 1965 – 1965! – video of “The Fabulous Flippers” doing “The Harlem Shuffle”, which excites the heck out of me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaiyiYvJrNQ
When I was growing up in the Midwest (Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas), there was a powerhouse 100,000-watt radio station out of Oklahoma City: KOMA (derived from the word OKlahOMA). You could hear this station from Mexico to the Dakotas. Initially an AM station, they played pop music hits and, in the Midwest in the 1960s, that station was the radio equivalent of New Musical Express for kids like me.
Every evening, their playlist would be augmented with commercials regarding the bands that toured constantly throughout the central states, and featured most was an extraordinary R&B (it was different then than now) band called “The Fabulous Flippers”.
The Flippers were initially a group of college kids from Hays, Kansas, where Fort Hays State University is located (it was a college, in those days). I mention this because that is one of the places I went to school.
In that period, horn bands were huge! Big selling act Chicago (aka Chicago Transit Authority) was founded in 1967, no doubt riding this wave in which you got tons of Midwestern white kids, educated in high school and college bands, who were playing “soul music”. It seemed like every university town hatched such a unit, but none were anywhere near the quality of “The Fabulous Flippers”. Every night on KOMA, I would hear announcements like “Catch The Fabulous Flippers tonight in Minot, North Dakota”, or “Catch the Fabulous Flippers tonight in McCook, Nebraska”, or wherever they happened to be playing that night. They seemed to tour constantly.
The Flippers got this ride because they were the darlings of a promotions group called Mid-Continent Productions.
As the Discog website writes: “Probably no other single musical group had such an impact on the music of Mid America in the 60s as The Fabulous Flippers. They were the lead act in the legendary Mid-Continent Productions booking agency owned by John Brown and Mike Murfin. Throughout the Flipper's career, they recorded eight singles, one LP and one EP. They are best remembered for their release, on Chicago's Cameo-Parkway Records, of ‘Harlem Shuffle/I Don't Want To Cry’.”
Band members included frontman Danny Hein, Dennes Frederick, Dennis Loewen, Doug Crotty, Gary Claxton, Jack Blackett, Jerry Tammen, Terry Wierman, and they were just dynamite, real house rockers.
By the time I got to the University of Kansas, in 1970, the Flippers had relocated to Lawrence, which in that period was an oasis on the plains, the coolest little university town you’ve ever seen. Lawrence, which was founded just before the American civil war by a group of New England abolitionists bent on keeping slavery from expanding out of the south (read my book “ATWOOD: A Toiler’s Weird Odyssey of Deliverance” – shameless plug). That settlement had a pro-slavery counterpart, in these years of violent “Bleeding Kansas”, in Leavenworth, Kansas. (I always thought the fact that Leavenworth, which is home to no less than five prisons, is symbolic of the pro-slavery movement, which fortunately died in Kansas, where Black communities like Nicodemus, founded by freed slaves in 1877, took a stand and made history.
To my mind, this is all important to the story of America, because all-White soul bands like the Flippers gave young dudes like me the impression that there was no gap separating Black and White cultures, at least musically. We admired the hell out of the Black musicians of that period, and earlier. Years would pass before that chasm developed between White and Black pop music cultures. It was a damned shame that has impacts to this day, when we no longer seem to broadly share musical references.
In Lawrence, the Flippers broadened their act to include an acoustic set, as they moved from the Motown to the “Hippie era”, which arrived in the Midwest a few years later than when it was born on the west coast, and they were great in that format as well.
These days, we might consider the Flippers guilty of cultural appropriation, another marker for how far America has fallen in terms of sharing our extraordinary musical ties, which I might hope would transcend issues of race.
“The Fabulous Flippers” were the greatest soul act I ever saw, stunning for it was a period before the broad misalignment of cultural ideals that exist today. It was a period when White dudes could throw down on “The Harlem Shuffle” and nobody wasted any time worrying over any race issues around why we can’t all dance together, or why any one group is barred from honoring the great work of another, all color aside.
"FIREFLIES (Howard and His Alien Friend)" is probably related, in some way, to the "disclosure" that is allegedly being slowing introduced to the global public. There are aliens among us, it's just that nobody has the balls to disclose the truth, though we're getting there; "we" being the U.S. government. Other governments have been far more open about supposed extraterrestrial interventions in earthly affairs. It is the Americans who are squeamish.
There is a storyline that says it is the alien(s) who are blocking open acknowledgement of their presence, their influence on humankind. We - the general public - are not perceived as ready for an expanded view of the greater universe.
Most of the ET world is respectful of that cautious, prudent edict, understanding of the delicacy of the situation, from both an Earthling and extraterrestrial perspective.
Just occasionally, however, they'll be the non-comformist, the curious rebel who shows up in your back yard, and opens your eyes.
There are tons of resources out there to help the DIY music producers of the world do a decent job of recording, mixing, and mastering their music tracks. This fellow below has good information and a nice attitude.
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