Sunday, February 15, 2009

'Dollhouse' premieres soft; 'Terminator' dives

Dh_sc41_0018 Expectations were low.

But they weren't quite this low.

The series premiere of Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" was seen by 4.7 million viewers Friday night and garnered a 2.0 preliminary adults 18-49 rating and 6 share. It was beaten in the 9 p.m. hour by ABC's "Supernanny" (6.1 million viewers, 2.2/7) and is the lowest-rated scripted series premiere on a major broadcast network this season aside from NBC's now-defunct "Crusoe."

"Dollhouse" was paired with the midseason return of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (3.7 million, 1.3/5), which was shifted from its previous Monday post. "Terminator" came in third place in the hour and hit a series low (by like 27%). "Terminator" beat NBC's "Howie Do It" (3.9 million, 1.2/4), but not by much. Both "Ghost Whisperer" (10.3 million, 2.4/8) and "Wife Swap" (4.3 million, 1.5/5) did better.

The performances represent a disappointing debut for what was, on paper, a good idea: creating a male-skewing sci-fi block to go against CBS' night-topping female-skewing crime shows. Fox didn't expect to win against CBS, but had some hope of coming out ahead of ABC's reality shows. But "Terminator" was sinking in the ratings earlier this season and "Dollhouse" has suffered from negative buzz and creative trouble for months. Critics, overall, seemed disappointed with Whedon's latest effort.

Fox had a third-place finish for the evening despite airing full-budgeted dramas. "Dollhouse" fared OK against two of its competitors, with CBS' Canadian import "Flashpoint" (8.9 million, 1.9/6) and NBC's ailing "Friday Night Lights" (3.5 million, 1.1/3) pulling lower numbers. It also did better than last year's short-lived "Canterbury's Law" in the slot.

At 10 p.m., an episode of ABC's "20/20" (10.9 million, 3.4/11) about the impoverished hill people of the Appalachian Mountains drew the newsmagazine's largest Friday audience in more than four years (ABC, in fact, won the night over CBS, which is rare). Yes, there was a whole morbid curiosity "real-life 'Deliverance'" aspect to its popularity. But give ABC and Diane Sawyer credit for convincing so many people to watch a report on poverty. Usually a newsmagazine needs an octuplet mom to pull off those kind of numbers.

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Madonna Tops 2009 Music Money Makers List

Ray Waddell, Nashville
If anyone had any doubt that touring is where the money is in the music business, a quick look at the top Moneymakers for 2008 should hammer the point home.

Regardless of genre, retail sales or radio play, each of the 20 acts on Billboard's Moneymakers list toured in 2008. (Taylor Swift mostly opened for Brad Paisley but doesn't get credit for that revenue). For almost all of them, touring generated the most revenue. And in a year when recorded-music sales declined yet again, many earned more at the box office than ever before.

1. Madonna: $242,176,466
2. Bon Jovi: $157,177,766
3. Bruce Springsteen: $156,327,964
4. The Police: $109,976,894
5. Celine Dion: $99,171,237
6. Kenny Chesney: $90,823,990
7. Neil Diamond: $82,174,000
8. Rascall Flatts: $63,522,160
9. Jonas Brothers: $62,638,814
10. Coldplay: $62,175,555
11. The Eagles: $61,132,213
12. Lil Wayne: $57,441,334
13. AC/DC: $56,505,296
14. Michael Buble: $50,257,364
15. Miley Cyrus: $48,920,806
16. Taylor Swift: $45,588,730
17. Journey: $44,787,328
18. Billy Joel: $44,581,010
19. Mary J. Blige: $43,472,850
20. Kanye West: $42,552,402

The top five Moneymakers are also the five acts that earned the most on tour, and in the same order, according to Billboard Boxscore. Eight of the top 10 Moneymakers are in the Boxscore top 10.

Even more remarkably, the top Moneymaker -- Madonna -- only had the 50th-best-selling album in the country. She ranked 14th on the list of digital track sellers and didn't place on the ringmasters chart. Her place on Moneymakers, like her $242,176,466 income, comes from the highest-earning tour that took place in 2008.

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Music Copyright ‘Pension Extension’ Moves Forward

Written by Ben Jones

EU royaltiesThere is little doubt that the the current ‘hot topic’ in copyright circles is the upcoming Pirate Bay trial. The trial, which has been termed ‘the Political Trial of the Decade‘ has been covered extensively by most news sites, including here at TorrentFreak. With the media focus thus diverted, it seems the EU might be trying to slip something through without notice.

The Legal Affairs Committee in the European Parliament has approved the resolution to extend the copyright term, as we have discussed in the past, from 50 years to 95 for recordings. This will now move on to a plenary vote in March.

Opposition for the extension has been considerable. Last month, the Open Rights Group (ORG) held a roundtable with several academics and MEPs, including at least one member of the Legal Affairs Committee, while scathing critiques on the proposal have appeared in influential newspapers over the past year.

Crucially, the main ‘benefit’ touted by Commissioner McCreevy – that it’s for the benefit of session musicians and the like – is significantly weakened by an amendment from the committee that gives the administration over to collecting societies. Of course, that’s assuming you can prove your entitlement to this money. According to veteran producer and musician Mike Collins, speaking at the ORG roundtable, records relating to session musician participation were not common until recently.

Perhaps worst of all, the commission has now been asked by the committee to perform an impact study based around extending the term of video performances by a similar amount. Although the study will doubtless find that there will be little benefit to any but the major content producers in performing such an extension, it will likely be ignored (as the study that said the same thing in this case was ignored) and the proposal will proceed.

There is a slight ray of hope though, in that there is a requirement to review the social situation of artists in 3 years time, and then every 4 years, to see how this has improved things. This might curtail any further extension on this subject, but the non-existent change in artist benefits from this, might prompt them to put things back how they were. Or, they could decide to make the terms even longer….

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For the lonely: 150 songs for sobbing on Valentine's Day

OpenheartchestscarValentine's Day is almost here, and as everyone from your bubbe to your Facebook status won't stop reminding you: You are alone. All alone.

Profound sadness is not for the faint of heart. And sometimes the best place to be is right in the middle of it.

Because that's just the kind of mood we're in. Honest. We're not one of those toothy, gleaming motivational speakers. We're not here to sell you a bill of goods about positive thinking and self-esteem and controlling your destiny by visualizing your chakras.

Instead, we offer 150 of the saddest songs in the world, subjectively selected and specially arranged for maximum depressive potential. And please, feel free to wallow in more anti-romance with our buddy Jason Gelt's "Valentine's Day songs for haters" list or recommend your own teary tunes in the comments.

1. "One More Chance" -- Fairport Convention
2. "Laser Beam" -- Low (or anything by Low)
3. "Drowned in My Own Tears" -- Mitty Collier
4. "I See a Darkness" -- Bonnie "Prince" Billy
5. "The White Lady" -- Elliott Smith
6. "Down From Dover" -- Dolly Parton (alternates: "Me and Little Andy" or "Jeannie's Afraid of the Dark")
7. "Not Gon' Cry" -- Mary J. Blige
8. "Don't Take the Girl" -- Tim McGraw
9. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" -- Bonnie Tyler
10. "Casimir Pulaski Day" -- Sufjan Stevens
11. "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" -- Frank Sinatra
12. "Lost Cause" -- Beck (or anything off "Sea Change")
13. "Through My Sails" -- Neil Young (alternates: "After the Gold Rush," "Needle and the Damage Done")
14. "The Weeping Song" -- Nick Cave
15. "Kern River" -- Merle Haggard (alternate: "If We Make it Through December")
16. "She's Out of My Life" -- Michael Jackson (alternate: "Ben")
17. "Against All Odds" -- Phil Collins
18. "Gloomy Sunday" -- Billie Holiday
19. "Time After Time" -- Cyndi Lauper
20. "Origin of Love" -- "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" soundtrack
21. "Llorando" (Crying) -- Rebekah Del Rio
22. "Only You" -- the Flying Pickets
23. "Nothing Compares 2 U" -- Sinéad O'Connor
24. "Forever Young" -- Alphaville
25. "Mad World" -- Gary Jules
26. "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)" -- Gladys Knight & the Pips
27. "Polaroids" -- Shawn Colvin
28. "Hurt" -- Johnny Cash
29. "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" -- Randy Newman
30. "The Best I Ever Had" -- Gary Allan (covering Vertical Horizon)
31. "Sharin' a Hole" -- Carissa’s Weird
32. "Wish Someone Would Care" -- Irma Thomas
33. "Wandering Star" -- Portishead
34. "Seasons in the Sun" -- Terry Jacks
35. "I Who Have Nothing" -- Shirley Bassey
36. "On a Bus to St. Cloud" -- Trisha Yearwood
37. "Busby Berkeley Dreams" -- the Magnetic Fields
38. "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" -- Poison
39. "Fake Plastic Trees" -- Radiohead
40. "Thank You" -- Led Zeppelin
41. "Is That All There Is?" -- Peggy Lee
42. "Being in Love" -- Songs: Ohia
43. "Hallelujah" -- Jeff Buckley
44. "Lilac Wine" -- Nina Simone
45. "If You Knew" -- Neko Case
46. "Crown of Love" -- the Arcade Fire
47. "Say" -- Cat Power (or anything by Cat Power)
48. "Cucurrucucú Paloma" -- Caetano Veloso
49. "Lonelier Than This" -- Steve Earle (alternates: "Ellis Unit One" or "Over Yonder")
50. "I've Been Loving You Too Long" -- Otis Redding

51. "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" -- Tammy Wynette
52. "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor" -- Entrance
53. "A New England" -- Billy Bragg
54. "My Fair, My Dark" -- Ida (covering David Schickele)
55. "November" -- Tom Waits
56. "Sleep" -- the Smiths
57. "Ghost" -- Indigo Girls
58. "Fairytale of New York" -- the Pogues
59. "Somebody" -- Depeche Mode
60. "She's Got You" -- Patsy Cline
61. "Devil on my Shoulder" -- Sodastream
62. "Revelator" -- Gillian Welch
63. "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" -- Al Green
64. "A Cottage for Sale" -- Judy Garland
65. "This Perfect World" -- Freedy Johnston
66. "Untouchable Face" -- Ani Difranco
67. "Goodbye" -- Emmylou Harris (covering Steve Earle)
68. "Set Me Free" -– Esther Phillips
69. "Tears in the Morning" -- the Beach Boys (alternate: "In My Room")
70. "Explain It to Me" -- Liz Phair
71. "Why" -- Annie Lennox
72. "November Rain" -- Guns 'N Roses
73. "Come Pick Me Up" -- Ryan Adams
74. "In the Middle of It All" -- Arthur Alexander
75. "Cats in the Cradle" -- Harry Chapin
76. "So Long" -- Perry Blake
77. "Verdi Cries" -- 10,000 Maniacs
78. "Alone" -- Heart
79. "Something I Can Never Have" -- Nine Inch Nails
80. "I Can't Hear the Music" -- Loretta Lynn
81. "When a Man Loves a Woman" -- Percy Sledge
82. "It's Raining" -- Quasi
83. "Can You Hear Me?" (tribute to Aaliyah & Left Eye) -- Missy Elliott featuring TLC
84. "At Seventeen" -- Janis Ian
85. "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" -- Stevie Wonder
86. "Two-Headed Boy" -- Neutral Milk Hotel
87. "The Dance" -- Garth Brooks
88. "You Were Always on My Mind" -- Willie Nelson
89. "Desperado" -- the Langley Schools Music Project (covering the Eagles)
90. "Everybody Hurts" -- R.E.M
91. "Unbreak My Heart" -- Toni Braxton
92. "All I Could Do Is Cry" -- Etta James
93. "Winter" -- Tori Amos
94. "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" -– Sandy Denny
95. "Sacrifice" -- Sinead O'Connor (covering Elton John)
96. "Yesterday" -- the Beatles
97. "River Man" -- Nick Drake
98. "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out" -– Bessie Smith
99. "Wuthering Heights" -- Kate Bush
100. "After You Left" -- Mirah
101. "Dear Mama" -- 2Pac
102. "World Without Tears" -- Lucinda Williams
103. "The River" -- Bruce Springsteen
104. "I Can't Make You Love Me" -- Bonnie Raitt
105. "Last Time I Saw Richard" -- Joni Mitchell
106. "Just a Dream" -- Carrie Underwood
107. "The Boxer" -- Simon & Garfunkel
108. "Two Steps From the Blues" -- Bobby Blue Bland
109. "It's a Mother***er" -- Eels
110. "I'll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me" -- Exposé
111. "To Love Is to Bury" -- Cowboy Junkies
112. "The End of the Road" -- Boyz II Men
113. "Lion's Mane" -- Iron & Wine
114. "Black" -- Pearl Jam
115. "He Stopped Loving Her Today" -- George Jones
116. "Prayers for Rain" -- the Cure
117. "Dance With My Father" -- Luther Vandross
118. "Sara" -- Bob Dylan
119. "Tears Are in Your Eyes" -- Yo La Tengo
120. "Fistful of Love" -- Antony and the Johnsons
121. "$1,000 Wedding" -- Gram Parsons
122. "Rainbow Connection" -- Kermit the Frog
123. "Where Do You Go to (My Lovely)" -- Peter Sarstedt
124. "Atmosphere" -- Joy Division
125. "The Sky Is Crying' -- Elmore James
126. "Send in the Clowns" -- Judy Collins
127. "Alfie" -- Dionne Warwick
128. "Five String Serenade" -- Mazzy Star
129. "Beautiful" -- Belle and Sebastian
130. "I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore" -– Dusty Springfield
131. "Alone Again" -- Jay-Jay Johanson
132. "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" -- Otis Redding
133. "NYC" -– Interpol
134. "Poems, Prayers, and Promises" -- John Denver
135. "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" -- Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris
136. "Streets of London" -- Ralph McTell
137. "(Where Are You) Now That I Need You" -- Don Covay
138. "Modern Romance" -- Yeah Yeah Yeahs
139. "One Way Street" -- Ann Peebles ("I've Been There Before")
140. "Fast Car" -- Tracy Chapman
141. "Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)" -- Sarah Polley (covering Tragically Hip)
142. "Don't Speak" -- No Doubt
143. "Joey" -- Concrete Blonde
144. "Kiss and Say Goodbye" -– Manhattan
145. "Andalucia" -– Mary Lou Lord (covering John Cale)
146. "Entire" -– the Spinanes
147. "Till The Real Thing Comes Along" -– Judy Henske
148. "I'm Not in Love" -- 10cc
149. "Mercy" -- Mojave 3
150. "In the Real World" -- Roy Orbison

Honorable Mention
"Viva la Tristeza!" - Pedro Almodovar's mix of songs he listened to while writing "Talk to Her"

--Elina Shatkin

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Eminem's "Bottle" breaks download record

By Silvio Pietroluongo and Jonathan Cohen

NEW YORK (Billboard) – The rap triumvirate of Eminem, Dr. Dre and 50 Cent soared 77 places to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on Thursday, setting a new first-week record for download sales.

"Crack a Bottle" sold 418,000 downloads, surpassing the prior record of 335,000 downloads shifted last October by T.I.'s "Live Your Life" featuring Rihanna.

Eminem, Dr. Dre and 50 Cent, each with highly anticipated albums on the way, previously collaborated on "Encore," which peaked at No. 25 on the Hot 100 in January 2005.

Elsewhere on the latest tally, Kanye West's "Heartless" rose one place to No. 2, trading places with Lady GaGa's former chart-topper "Just Dance" featuring Colby O'Donis. Last week's No. 1, Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You," fell to No. 4, and Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" dropped three places to No. 5.

The All-American Rejects' "Gives You Hell" remained at No. 6, Taylor Swift's "Love Story" fell two to No. 7 and the Fray's "You Found Me" slipped one to No. 8. The Denver-based rock band's self-titled album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Wednesday. The Hot 100's top debut was also from the Fray, with "Absolute" at No. 70.

T.I.'s "Dead and Gone" featuring Justin Timberlake rose two to No. 9, and Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" held at No. 10.

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Waiting for Matty Pickles to Come Out

by John Spong

Britt Daniel. Photograph by Peter Yang

Should you find yourself in West Hollywood in the next couple of days and happen upon Spoon front man Britt Daniel—he of the original hip bedhead, well-fitted shirt (pronounced “fi’ed”), and permanent expression of determined bemusement, like he gets a joke you won’t—he’ll most likely be coming to or from a recording studio. If you’re a Spoon fan hoping that means a follow-up to 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is imminent, don’t.

“I’m in LA right now doing some demos with Jon Brion,” he said in short phone call, referring to the producer best known for soundtracks to idiosyncratic films (see Magnolia) and for having his completed version of Fiona Apple’s long-awaited last album rejected by the artist for being, some would say, too cool.

“We’re writing together, which is different for me. I’ve never gone somewhere to write with someone. I wrote some things once with Miles Zuniga [of Austin’s Fastball], but that was more, ‘We need a verse, now a chorus.’ This is doing things with individual sounds, things that could become sections of songs.” In fact, Brion’s trademark is a playful sprawl, which seems at odds with Spoon’s purposeful sparsity. But the collaboration worked to a strong end on the one song Brion produced for Ga, the horn-driven, standout first single “The Underdog.”

“Jon plays every instrument. He has strategies for putting everything together. He calls this throwing paint against the wall. It’s coming up with ideas.”

But it’s not expected to produce a full album anytime soon. Daniel plans to convene the band in early March in a studio in Portland, his home-away-from-Austin for the past four years. He predicts he might have a half a record’s worth of songs ready by then. And he might like how they sound with the band. Or he might not.

So the next long-player won’t likely come before 2010. It’s a typically long stretch between releases that leaves the Spoon Army to sift through dribbling tidbits to figure out just what the band is up to. Occasional remixes of other acts’s songs by Spoon’s nucleus, Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, point to the artists that satisfy their famously picky tastes. In Daniel’s case that has been Interpol and Feist, and in Eno’s, the Apostles of Hustle. The YouTube clips of cover songs in Spoon’s live sets give looks into their iPods and influences. In recent years those choices included Destroyer, Sam Cooke, and Paul Simon.

Simon is the perfect touchstone for making sense of Daniel. They both create deceptively simple, meticulous pop songs. They share a preoccupation with rhythm that doesn’t always announce itself, and write lyrics big on personal detail that often resist interpretation. And they have a tendency to take their time. After the one-two punch of 1972’s Paul Simon and 1973’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Art Garfunkel’s former better half has gone as long as seven years between releases. Spoon has yet to make fans wait that long, but Ga is starting to feel like a good while back.

When Texas Monthly first gave meaningful space to Spoon in April 2004, we titled the feature, “Spoon At a Fork.” Our thinking was that the band was poised for something big, and the thought proved right. The album they were recording at the time, Gimme Fiction—which itself wasn’t released for another year—sold 150,000 copies, nearly twice its predecessor, 2002’s Kill the Moonlight. Then Ga doubled Gimme and is now at 300,000 and counting. No, those aren’t the kind of numbers Joe Walsh referenced when he bragged about gold records hanging on his wall, but Spoon operates in a different world. The band’s artist-friendly contract with indie-label Merge, their home since 2000, puts more money in their pockets per unit. And as declining record sales have redefined the music industry—according to the New York Times, sales were down 45 percent from 2000—street cred has become the better measure. That, Spoon has.

Eno, whose day job designing computer chips once funded the band, has quit that day job, and the studio he built in his backyard for Spoon is now one of the hotter recording spots in Austin. Ben Kweller tracked his new album there. Charlie Sexton is recording Edie Brickell there right now. And Eno’s latest solo production credit, the debut LP of Austin neo-garage-soul outfit Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, is set for a March release on Lost Highway.

Daniel just finished producing Columbia, MO, dance-rock band the White Rabbits. And he scored a Will Ferrell movie. And Spoon played SNL. And its song “I Turn My Camera On” appeared in a ubiquitous Jaguar commercial. And the New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones provided the ultimate pop culture seal of approval (“Well Suited”). And they’ve become, as the old saw goes, big in Japan. Literally.

Now they’re working on a new album. Daniel gives a hint at the pace. “We recorded two songs last fall, one that’s pretty good and one that’s not. One’s a rocker that [Austin producer] Mike McCarthy tried to make sound like Joy Division. The other is kinda middle of the road, a song we tried to make new wave and probably shouldn’t have.

“And I’ve got a song I just wrote about Dabney Coleman. I’m a big fan of his, of his old show Buffalo Bill. I was telling a friend of mine how I write songs, and he knew I was a fan of Dabney’s so he said, ‘Okay, write a song about him—and do it in a day.’ Because the hardest part for me is always putting an end to something. But a deadline means you have to wrap it up, you have to find a way to make it work.”

Yes, yes. A deadline. Quite right. In a later email about a possible release date for the record, Daniel wrote this, “Not soon. Not to be cryptic but that’s all I know.” And then, in an apparent effort to dial down the crypticality, he added this working title: Me and Matty Pickles.

Original here

DRM's demise clears way for home audio innovation

By David Chartier

DRM's demise clears way for home audio innovation

So-called "whole-home" audio systems that allow users to rock out to their music in multiple rooms via remote controllers have, so far, not quite caught on with the public. While a variety of options have existed for some time between the high end, like Sonos, and the low end, like the Roku SoundBridge or even Apple's AirPort Express, a new study claims that 2009 may be the year that whole-home systems get their groove on.

Forrester's study, called "How Whole-Home Audio Products Can Find Their Rhythm," argues that two primary barriers to entry for these systems are finally at their tipping points now: networked homes and DRM. According to the report, 28 percent of US homes are now networked properly to provide the bandwidth required to push audio all over the house. Further, Apple's announcement in January that it is finally removing all DRM technology from iTunes Store music purchases means that the most popular music store in the US is finally selling the same clean music as its many competitors. Compiled alongside other factors in a new "Convenience Quotient" methodology, Forrester believes networked homes and the freedom provided by music DRM's demise allows manufacturers to shift their battle to the most important factor for new product adoption: convenience.

From a survey of 4,464 online adults in the second quarter 2008, Forrester's research reveals that the majority of consumers have stuck with "no-tech" solutions like cranking up a stereo's volume in one room to hear it in another or carrying CDs and iPods back and forth. Only seven percent have gone "low-tech" by running speaker wires from one room to another, with another six percent who own stereos with MP3 player docks. Less than four percent use some kind of "high-tech" wireless speaker system (such as an AirPort Express), with just two percent going all-out with a high-end whole-home system like Sonos.

In 2009, though, Forrester thinks the high-tech numbers that involve wireless, whole-home audio systems could see a significant jump. Converging factors like DRM-free stores (and the ability to upgrade old libraries), more affordable competition, easier universal controllers from more manufacturers (and even iPhone apps), and unfettered access to one's entire music library could finally spur growth. Forrester singles out systems like Logitech's Squeezebox line for their reasonable $200-400 price range and rich set of features like Internet radio station support and wireless remotes. The report also touts the high-quality experience and broad feature set of Sonos' system, but notes that consumers are not likely to consider it an option due to an extremely high cost barrier that begins at $999.

Ultimately, Forrester predicts competition to begin heating up this year in the whole-home audio market due to the tumbling of aforementioned barriers and a renewed manufacturer focus on greater convenience.

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Joaquin Phoenix's Rap Career Is Not A Hoax

By Katey Rich

Joaquin Phoenix's Rap Career Is Not A Hoax I've sat in a room with Joaquin Phoenix, smelled his cigarette smoke and seen through the dark shades to the once-familiar eyes underneath. And no, I still have no idea what the hell is going on with him. But, and I swear I'm not just saying this because I might wind up in his documentary, I'm convinced he's not a hoax.

Surely you've heard about it all by now-- the slurred red carpet announcement that he was done acting, the messy Las Vegas rap debut, and especially last night's disastrous Letterman appearance. Joaquin Phoenix's career has taken a sharp left turn, to a place that apparently bans razors and combs and considers a rap career a perfectly viable option for a white, Oscar-nominated actor raised by hippies.

Yesterday my online colleagues and I were gathered for the junket for Two Lovers the movie that Phoenix is ostensibly out promoting. What you saw on Letterman is essentially what we got-- a shambling, mumbling cipher, masked by sunglasses and facial hair, who showed no real interest in talking about the movie he was being paid to promote. It's unfair to accuse him of drug use, but it's a fair guess that some were involved. Because Casey Affleck and his crew were there filming the interview for the documentary about Phoenix's new career, we indulged him in his desire to talk about rapping, and maybe because of that, we got more out of him than Letterman did. He was talkative, almost friendly, admitting he's planning to collaborate with Diddy and talking about his plans for dance songs, even "sexy songs," on his rap album. He mentioned how much he hates promoting films, which we had pretty much guessed, but also trashed acting in general, saying that talking about your emotional connection to your character is just something you say "when you're trying to get nominated."

The only bit of that open disdain he showed Letterman-- and Letterman shoved right back at him-- came when one reporter dared to ask the question on everyone's mind: basically, "Is this a put on?" Phoenix acted as if he'd been slapped, as if he hadn't heard the question in dozens of interviews already. "It's hard not to get offended," he responded, as if his dedication to rap throughout his life should be enough evidence that this is all for real. And while he seemed to shrug it off, and the interview proceeded however bizarrely from there, Affleck jumped in at the end, telling the reporter she was so busy being "savvy" that she wasn't able to accept the honesty behind it (at least, I think that's what he was going for). I'm not sure who's drinking the Kool-Aid and who's serving it, but neither man seems capable of understanding the main reaction this whole rap career has gotten: total skepticism..

The junket proceeded from there, and we talked to Two Lovers director James Gray and co-star Vinessa Shaw, both of whom seemed baffled but otherwise unwilling to talk about Phoenix's behavior. Just when we thought it was OK to go, an hour after we'd expected thanks to Phoenix's late arrival, Casey Affleck came back in, sat us back down, and asked us to explain just why we didn't believe that his brother-in-law Joaquin was being anything less than genuine.

Where to begin, right? Casey listened attentively as the eight or so journalists left tried to make our case, citing everything from Joaquin's weird appearance and slurred speech to the checkered history of white rappers. But at no point did he seem to drop his position that we were the crazy ones, that people change careers all the time and Joaquin's rap career is no less unbelievable than, say, Scarlett Johansson dropping an album. Why couldn't we just be happy for him and let him do his thing? Haven't we ourselves ever wanted to do something different? (To prove this point, he actually went around the room and had us list all the jobs we've had before, and what we really want to be doing).

But amid the genuine dismay he seemed to have at our cynical questions, Casey gave an explanation that may have cracked the case. He blamed reality TV for our conception that everything has to be 100% fake or 100% real-- "there's a million shades of gray in-between." And that, more than anything seems to be the answer we're looking for. Joaquin Phoenix really does want to be a rapper, but he also really wants the attention that comes from appearing to have a breakdown in public. I told Casey that I was skeptical of how publicized the whole thing is, how Joaquin announced his retirement on the red carpet, rapped in Vegas for the first time only weeks later, and now has a documentary crew following him, assuring that we'll be hearing about MC JP or whatever for at least the next year. But given that Joaquin has willingly participated in the publicity tour for Two Lovers, all while barely talking about the movie itself, the publicity seems to be what it's all about. If he had cut an album in the privacy of his home and told us about it six months later, that would be beside the point. It's about the rapping, but it's also about subverting every expectation we have of the stern-jawed, Oscar-nominated actor.

So is it a stunt, or is it for real? As Casey hinted, it's a little bit of both. Joaquin Phoenix is never going to "break character," or admit the rapping was all a hoax, because it's not. Phoenix really does want to be a rapper, but who knows if it's because that's his lifelong artistic dream, or because it's the last thing we would have expected. The rapping, the beard, the Casey Affleck documentary-- it's all part of a package telling us "You think you know Joaquin Phoenix, but you have no fucking idea."

I was exhausted at the end of the day, slightly in shock that I'd spent the last hour being grilled by Casey Affleck, and more sure than ever that, whatever else is going on, we're not being punk'd by Joaquin Phoenix. Whether it's drugs talking, or an actual nervous breakdown, or a Britney-esque desire to distance himself as much as possible from his matinee idol potential, Phoenix feels everything he's doing as genuinely as we might have thought he felt his characters in his movies. Acting isn't really him, he told us, but this-- whatever this is-- is real. For lack of a better option, I choose to believe him.

Original here

Rick Steves lights up the marijuana conversation

Kirkland Reporter Staff Writer

Travel guidebook author Rick Steves addresses the crowd during the “Marijuana: It’s Time For a Conversation” event at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center on Wed., Feb. 4. - Katherine Ganter / Kirkland Reporter

Only days after a photo surfaced of Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps smoking marijuana, television host Rick Steves criticized the press for giving the athlete a hard time.

In his quest to decriminalize marijuana, Steves has criticized local media as well.

The travel writer hosted a televised “infomercial” last year to get viewers thinking about the issue, but local television stations, such as KING, KOMO and KIRO refused to broadcast it or offered 1 a.m. Sunday broadcast times.

“If you care about democracy and it’s considered courageous to talk about a law that is counter-productive, we’ve got problems,” he said.

Co-host with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Drug Policy Director Alison Holcomb, Steves and several other speakers discussed the history of marijuana laws and their effects to a sold-out crowd Feb. 4 at the Kirkland Performance Center.

He took the opportunity to criticize local media companies for failing to foster a dialogue on the issue, claiming the law is more costly than the drug problem. Steves did acknowledge, however, a unique advantage in campaigning for the issue.

“Nobody can fire me, basically,” he said amidst a roar of laughter.

Steves screened the station-censored 30-minute “infomercial,” which was filmed at KOMO’s Seattle studios, detailing marijuana’s emergence as a controlled substance after the U.S. prohibition on alcohol was lifted.

Washington State Institute for Public Policy estimates that the state could save $7.6 million a year if the law were changed, based on the 11,553 misdemeanor arrests made in 2007. The heavy influx, said local attorney Ken Davidson of Davison, Czeisler and Kilpatric, could be clogging up the courts. He asked the panel of speakers if using the criminal justice system was an appropriate method to control the drug.

“To file a lawsuit with Superior Court, your trial date is 18 months off,” Davidson noted. “Justice delayed is often justice denied.”

Steves and others also said the mandatory jail time for misdemeanor possession was in part prompting the need for a proposed regional jail, which may be built in the Kingsgate area. According to a 2006 Jail Action Group (JAG) study, about 3 percent of King County misdemeanor inmates were jailed on drug-related charges.

Speaking after Steves, State Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) - who once served as director of the King County Bar Association’s Drug Policy Initiative - supports a full legalization of regulated quantities of marijuana as a “soft” drug.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” he said of legislative efforts to decriminalize marijuana, including his work with national bar associations, urging them to set up task forces. “Let’s not lock people up so much, let’s provide more treatment opportunities for those who are in trouble. And frankly, let’s leave a bunch of people alone.”

Retired Whatcom Superior Court Judge David Nichols and Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata also spoke at the event.

Steves urged the audience to contact their local legislators and councilmembers and talk to them about the issue.

“If I can inspire you to talk about marijuana in polite company, we’re all going to get somewhere,” he said.

Seated in the audience next to Sammamish Mayor Don Gerend and several Issaquah Councilmembers, Deputy Mayor Joan McBride said she was surprised by some of the presentation’s claims, such as the stiff penalties for posession. Possession of 40 grams of marijuana (a little over an ounce) or less in Washington state is a misdemeanor offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of one day in jail and a fine of $250 for the first offense. Any amount over that is a felony, which could result in up to a 5-year jail term and a $10,000 fine.

“I’m information gathering right now,” McBride said. “I just put in a call to the chief of police and would like to sit down and talk to him.”

In the state legislature, legislation on decriminalizing marijauna is working its way through both the house and senate. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) introduced a bill scheduled for a committee hearing this week. The proposed change would reclassify possession of 40 grams of marijuana or less to a civil infraction.

The city's chief legal adviser, City Attorney Robin Jenkinson, said she had not studied the possibility of changing enforcement of state marijuana regulations or how changes at the state level would affect the city. In September 2003, Seattle voters passed an initiative to relax enforcement of marijuana possession laws, making it the department's lowest priority. Jenkinson declined to comment on whether such an initiative would be workable for Kirkland.

"It's not an area I've reviewed or have been asked about," she said.

On the enforcement side, Kirkland Police Chief Eric Olsen declined to comment on how local authorities enforce marijuana posession, but authorized Lt. Bradley Gilmore to speak on the department's behalf.

"We haven't noticed an upswing" of illegal marijuana use, Gilmore said. "Nothing out of the ordinary."

The KPD made over 200 arrests for marijuana possession last year, making up the majority of local misdemeanor drug arrests. Police have also assigned a detective to serve full-time with the Eastside Drug Task Force (ENTF), a regional drug enforcement initiative started in 1981 and based in Bellevue.

"We go strictly by state law," Gilmore said.

When asked last year during an interview with the Kirkland Reporter about the department's top priorities, Chief Olsen did not mention drug enforcement.

Light up the marijuana conversation

Contact Rep. Roger Goodman of Kirkland’s 45th Legislative District by sending him a letter to: 320 John L. O’Brien Building, PO Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600 or by calling him at 360-786-7878. You can also find him online on his official Legislative Web page.

*This version corrects the support for the production of both the un-aired informercial and the "Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation" program, both funded by the ACLU.

Original here

Rihanna gave Chris Brown Herpes?


The drama around Chris Brown’s beating of Rihanna continues.

Media reports have confirmed what we reported earlier: that Chris Brown did indeed beat Rihanna, but it’s the reason that’s even more bizarre.

Sources allegedly close to Brown allege that the fight leading to the domestic violence incident occurred because Rihanna gave Chris Brown herpes.

And how did Rihanna end up with an STD to begin with? Claims are that she picked it up from Jay-Z!

Brown would have found out about the Herpes due to the symptoms: the signs of infection typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. The blisters break, leaving tender ulcers (sores) that may take two to four weeks to heal.

While disturbing if true, it doesn’t excuse the beating Brown gave Rihanna under any circumstances.

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