Monthly Archives: October 2009

Rubin the Wrong Way–a book review


Rick Rubin: in the studio, by Jake Brown. Toronto: ECW Press. 254 pp, $17.95

The 25th anniversary of Def Jam Records presents music fans with a unique opportunity to appreciate the career of its co-founder Rick Rubin. His long-time collaborator Russell Simmons recently took the opportunity, during a “VH1 Honors” special devoted to the pioneering hip-hop label, to declare Rubin “the greatest producer of all time.” Of course, there are a number of legendary producers whose acolytes would raise vigorous objection to that idea, but you can make a pretty strong case on Rubin’s behalf.

A practicing Buddhist, known as much for his long beard, his omnipresent mala beads and typically barefooted lotus posture, Rubin–the winner of seven Grammy awards–is surely not concerned with anyone’s production-chops hierarchy. His reluctance to engage in the usual industry crossfire is as much a factor in the legend as the intense work ethic he’s displayed during three decades in the business. Few have worked with a vaster array of talent, very few have contributed to more classic records, and no one has put together a resume quite like Rick Rubin’s. Nor would anyone have ever thought to.

Rick Rubin: in the studio (ECW Press) is not a book worthy of its subject, and it’s a terrible advertisement for its author. Jake Brown has written a number of books about major figures in American music, including Alice In Chains, Biggie Smalls, Suge Knight, 50 Cent, Kanye West, R. Kelly, Jay-Z, Motley Crue, Black Eyed Peas, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rick James. (His “In the Studio” series also has volumes on Heart, Prince, Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur.) This one feels like something he put together within a few weeks for money on the side. One hopes there is more to it than that, but I doubt it.

If any first-hand reporting went into this book, there is no way to tell from the way it’s organized. All of the cited quotes were cribbed from other sources, mostly interviews with specialist music magazines. Any original insight is subsumed to a fan-boy ethic that pervades the text. His book is constructed in such a way that Brown somehow manages to make Rubin come off as overrated. However, the nine-page “selected discography” included at the end of the book, is interesting, if only for the revelations of work one didn’t know Rubin did.

The text itself runs 225 pages, of which exactly 30 deal cover the Def Jam years. This earlier material is handled much more ably; this, along with the Johnny Cash stuff, is the music Rick Rubin will be remembered for. Interesting tidbits abound. For example, Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys discovered LL Cool J’s demo tape while hanging out in Rubin’s dorm room/office. Conversely, Rubin (the group’s original DJ) was the impetus behind their decision to drop drummer Kate Schellenbach and focus on rap. He was the label’s in house producer for its first five years.

When Rubin speaks of crying on an airplane as he listened to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, the book—if not the story it chronicles—reaches its narrative peak. From that point neither Rubin, nor this book, are the same. Rubin’s moves to start his own Def American Recordings and shift the focus of his production from rap to rock sparked a new era in his own career; he would go on to achieve commercial and critical heights unseen among his generation. It doesn’t work out so well for the book.

Later chapters dealing with Tom Petty, Slayer, Danzig, AC/DC, System of a Down, The Cult, Mick Jagger, Weezer, Dixie Chicks and Metallica will simply fall flat; even acolytes of those specific artists will be hard-pressed to extract any fresh tidbits from this compendium of public sources. Rubin’s work with Neil Diamond makes for an interesting five pages, while the Audioslave chapter is most notable for the constant subtle digs at former Rage Against the Machine singer Zach de la Rocha.

The book’s author, like its subject, is a big fans of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who have retained Rubin as their primary producer, and whose albums take up 50 pages of the book. A Peppers fan can probably glean some useful insight about the band’s gear and working methods; John Frusciante’s evolution within the larger group dynamic comes through well. But one-fourth of the text? Questionable.

What ultimately sells this book, and cements Rubin’s hall-of-fame credentials, is the Def Jam material, and the stuff on Johnny Cash. Brown devotes 22 pages to the near-symbiotic relationship between artist and producer, who together collaborated on four albums that encompass arguably the finest work by either man. The success of the Cash-Rubin recordings (which can now, thankfully, be had as a single box set) led countless musicians, fans and record labels to revisit the work of past masters and present these voices to a new generation of music consumers. As such, many older artists got the best and/or last payday of their careers as an indirect result. Surely the major Cash scholars will cover all this in greater detail, but Brown writes a nice introduction.

It’s unfortunate that Brown didn’t do the extra work of compiling a fuller listing of Rubin’s credits–more than 100 albums so far, including four this year and seven in 2008. Hell, his resume makes a fine outline for a book. One can think of several artists who’ve worked with Rubin, barely mentioned in this book, that would be worth hearing a little more about: U2, the Gossip, Wu-Tang Clan, Shakira, Saul Williams, Cheryl Crow, Andrew Dice Clay, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Although some of these collaborations yielded only singles, they could also yield some savory anecdotes; surely some of them would be happy to put the guy over in print. Hell, there is nothing about Rubin’s crucial role producing Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”, although, for the record, Danger Mouse’s “Grey Album” beat was better. For millions of music fans who missed the rise of Def Jam, the only time they’ve ever seen him was in the video. Worth a mention.

On the whole, Rick Rubin: in the studio is probably not worth the $17.95 it’s asking for. As a survey of his career, and a sampling of the techniques he brings to bear in the studio, it’s merely a passable stopgap. The major writing on Rick Rubin remains to be done, hopefully by Rubin’s own rock-steady hand. But until then, this will do.; October 27, 2009

Money Jungle: “Vigilant Ease”


Crime has been a subject of wide discussion across Northeast Florida—but what else is new? Every bit of nasty business in our headlines of late has been duplicated, to no end, up and down the state, and around the country. We’ll not speak here of specific incidents, but instead of the larger problem, the stuff no one else wants to talk about.

The first thing to remember is that we are involved in a national problem, and no one, anywhere, has got a handle on it, which intensified the burden felt by all cities as they basically improvise new concepts and methodologies of crime control. The early predictions of social theorists were borne out: the economic recession has made crime a lot tougher for civil society to deal with, for obvious reasons.

Police shootings are up, but 2009 was one of the worst years ever, in terms of police officers being killed. JSO has not lost a man in combat with a suspect in some time, which speaks to their skills, but other states have noted some truly awful incidents. The police response has seen an increase in police-involved shootings and other uses of force that polarize the relationship between law-enforcement and the populations they serve. All these trends are certain to continue.

Liberal ideologues are quick to note that actual crime statistics have held stable, or (as in Duval) posted credible drops in recent years. Yay! That still leaves thousands of violent crimes occurring in our state every year, and the billions that must be spent to maintain this delicate “balance”. The vast majority of kids who turn up missing, for example, or women who are subjected to sexual assault, are never even mentioned by the media; they can, at best, hope to be fodder in some chump politico’s year-end reports, which is no consolation to them or their families. We are not talking about numbers on a page; we’re talking about human beings, more of whom are being hurt every day.

It speaks to the soft, sorry style of politics in our state now that whole populations are getting mass-traumatized, with no real response from the people themselves. Residents of the Riverside area are up in arms—literally, in many cases—about a series of rapes that remain unsolved at this writing. The heinous attack on a bicyclist in broad daylight was not reported to the public until a week later, by which time more attacks had happened. The best reporting was done by the Riverside Community News blog, which was first to put out sketches of the suspects.

Likewise, in the week before the recent tragedy in Orange Park, someone tried to snatch a child mere yards from where the girl later disappeared, but local media—caught up in the “Balloon Boy” debacle, seemingly imposed on them by the networks—failed to inform residents of the incident until it was too late. Both are glaring examples of the defects of mainstream media, and of the need for citizens to fill those gaps formerly occupied solely by media and law-enforcement. There are now only a small handful of reporters actively walking the police beat, and almost none who might take pride in knowing the subject inside-out, and that’s bad news for everyone.

Typically, people have come to this writer for solutions, since I’ve been open and up-front about the need for enhanced vigilance within communities for several years. One might think a response of such kind is beneath us, like we don’t want to “stoop to their level”. Well, we’re already there. When good people are being preyed upon, and their neighbors do nothing, we’re getting awfully close to moral equivalence.

With people buying guns more than ever—thanks, Obama!—it would seem the next logical step to use these weapons for the purpose they were designed—protection of innocent life. That would entail more armed (righteous) men and women walking, biking, riding their streets, looking for trouble. No citizen should ever feel alone in the face of predatory violence; these animals are everyone’s enemy, and only a quasi-organized movement to take back our streets will stop them even slightly.

The next generation of anti-American-agitators will need only to piggyback atop the nation’s preexisting vulnerabilities to achieve their goals of destabilization. Violence won’t even be necessary, because there is so much of it already; terrorism will only add to the stresses of a first-response infrastructure that has already been compromised. The system is blown-out. All the former citadels of American power, like DC, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit, have been subsumed with spikes in violence, and the collapse of authority along the southern border means—well, that’s obvious now. There’s nothing random, isolated or coincidental about any of it.; October 27, 2009

Poor Circulation: bad trends accelerate for print media.


Like many of my colleagues around the country, I entered the journalism profession during those now-clearly halcyon years of the mid-1990s—the years when “alternative rock” as still meant something as an organizational concept for musicians and their fans; years when the biggest issue of our politics was the president’s personal life; back when the worst we could expect from terrorists was 100 killed in a bombing, not thousands dead from coordinated next-level strikes; years when it never appeared that the US economy could ever do anything but grow.

Those years were also boom years for the media. Newspapers and magazines were thriving as adjuncts of a bull market built around consumerism, and “information technology”, as yet unassociated with the “IT Bubble”, still promised vast new growth in the media itself. Print media welcomes the expansion of its electronic counterpart; it was viewed as an instrument of its own benefit, not as a competitor that would eventually ruin most of traditional media. It was a time when people were actually spending millions to dollars to launch new magazines and newspapers, instead of shutting the existing ones down. Like my colleagues, I’ve spent most of this decade watching the steady destruction of media monoliths that took generations to construct, while inveighing against the poor choices on the management levels that accelerated the whole tragic process.

The process continues apace in 2009. The most recent numbers compiled by the Audit Bureau of Circulation and reported most ably by Editor & Publisher,, spanning the Septembers from 2008-2009, are awful. The usual declines, augmented by the larger economic recession, have pushed readerships to lows unseen in living memory. All of the top-25 Sunday papers posted declines averaging 8.42%.

Of the top-25 circulation daily papers, 21 posted declines that average 13.12%, led by the Miami Herald (-23%) and the once-mighty San Francisco Chronicle, which lost a staggering 25.8% of its readership in one year. The New York Times, whose excesses and abuses have figured prominently in the cracking-up of this monolith, only lost 7.28%, but circulation fell below a million—a sad landmark for the business. (The three papers reporting no figures—Philadelphia Inquirer, Denver Post and Seattle Times—are presumed to be in comparable straits.)

The nation’s largest circulation newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, was the only gainer (+.61%), and is now the only paper with more than two million paid. It had the good fortune of being owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is apparently the only person in the upper levels of American media who knows what he’s doing. Cynics will point out that News Corp. has thrived by pushing populist buttons, generating more heat than light, perhaps. If one sets aside the Journal as an anomaly among the top-ten gainers, none were by papers with a circulation above 175,000.

These larger declines represent a collapse in the information-gathering capacity of whole cities. The daily paper serves a function that has not been fully eclipsed by its competition—not yet, anyway. That is a generational shift in still-early phases; millions of people lack regular access to such technology, and are as such reliant on traditional media for their news. Plus, the daily paper style is a unique animal in the literary world; it is the language of real-time communication, the last bulwark against a language based entirely on acronyms and emoticons and slang. The collapse of the daily paper industry will lead to a fracturing of language that could make everyday talk incomprehensible and impossible to teach within just a few years. If it isn’t already.

Activists Wanted: Cabot’s-Koppers Superfund Site (Gainesville, FL)


[The following–lightly edited for style, not for content–was sent in from Fans of Wild Iris Books, a bookstore and cafe catering to the gay/lesbian/hippie/alternative religion community of Gainesville, FL, as well as colleagues, cohorts, confidants, co-conspirators and other sympathetic parties.

The saga of the state’s Superfund sites has seen vast, wide, prolific explication, but there is always more to that story. There are two rallies planned for the next couple of weeks, and the store has plenty of extra information. I would encourage any readers in the beautiful Gainesville area to get involved, especially the young activists related to UF, SFSC and the glorious Civic Media Center. Also curious for insight from anyone who specializes in these issues. ]

Have you heard about the TOXIC Cabot’s-Koppers Superfund Site right here in Gainesville??? If not, here are the basics. Located in the heart of Gainesville, the Koppers Superfund Site is listed as one of the EPA’s top toxic sites and has been polluting Gainesville since 1983.

The site is releasing over 32 pollutants/toxins including Cresote, Napthalen, Carcinogenic aromatic chemicals, Dioxins, Copper Arsenate and Arsenic. Huge clouds of highly toxic, carcinegenic dioxin-laden dust regularly blow off the site into and throughout Gainesville. Our soil and air have already been polluted and soon these toxins will pollute our water supply as well.

Koppers will not leave town and clean the site unless WE rally and demand that authories take charge of the situation and protect the health of our citizens. We need volunteers to make calls to Gainesville residents alerting them of the danger and encouraging them to take part in several rallies to continue to garner public and media attention and force Koppers into action. You can also purchase support T-Shirts at Wild Iris Books for only $15 and the proceeds will benefit the costly legal help that we will need to fight for this cause.

Never phonebanked? Don’t worry; we will provide you with phone scripts and answers to all the questions that people may ask. All you need is a desire to save Gainesville from these pollutants. YOU can make a difference in protecting OUR community.

Find out more information about the site here:

Please think about volunteering to make some phone calls and help get the message out that Gainesville will not stand for the poisoning of our soil, air, and water. WE CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE! Please feel free to contact me with any questions. No amount of time is too small, even a couple of phone calls can help spread the word. Please forward this message on to anyone who may be interested in helping.

10/24 – 200 NW 23rd Ave (by Koppers Main Entrance)
9:00am – 1:00pm

10/29 – City/County Koppers Hearing, County Building, Downtown Gainesville
4:00pm Onwards

11/7 – 200 NW 23rd Ave (by Koppers Main Entrance)
9:00am – 1:00pm

Signs will be provided – just bring yourself!

Erica Merrell
Friends of Wild Iris

Sunshine State vs. Silver State


[Attorney General Bill McCollum has continued apace with the pretty good work done by his predecessor, Charlie Crist (whose mostly absentee performance as Governor/perpetual candidate) in combating social predators, human traffickers and profiteering insurance. He has settled nicely into his best niche since Congress. This press release is reprinted in full, because it’s such a wild story.

On the larger scale, I’m disappointed that Obama hasn’t canceled student loan debt as part of the stimulus plan, since that money represents just a drop in the bucket of larger debt issues, yet still such a big part of the debt-load accrued by an increasing number of young workers. Recent studies indicate that the average college graduate earns his or her B.A. at a cost of $20,000 in student loan debt. With tuitions increasing throughout the decade for colleges, universities and even community colleges and trade schools, those numbers are likely to increase, especially as financial institutions and the federal government curbs its largesse in response to the economic collapse.

The Florida AG’s office, BTW, can be followed, on Twitter.]

For Immediate Release
October 27, 2009

Contact: Sandi Copes
Phone: 850.245.0150

~ Settlement resolves issues related to now-defunct helicopter training school ~

TALLAHASSEE, FL –Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that Florida and 11 other states have obtained a settlement with a private student loan provider, resolving an 18-month multistate investigation. Student Loan Xpress, a subsidiary of CIT Group, will forgive a total of $112.8 million in debt for students who obtained private educational loans to attend a now-defunct helicopter training school, Silver State Helicopters, LLC. Florida was the lead state in the investigation and the settlement negotiations; Florida victims will have over $17 million in student loans forgiven.

“This is an excellent resolution for those students whose dreams of flying were grounded, but who were still stuck with student loans to pay back,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Silver State Helicopters began operating in 2002 as a small helicopter pilot training school and ultimately operated 34 flight schools throughout the country with a total of 2,700 enrolled students. For at least two years, Student Loan Xpress served as the preferred student lender for Silver State Helicopters, providing approximately $174 million to over 2,300 students nationwide. Records showed that only a small percentage of students graduated and drop-out rates were exceptionally high.

By 2008, Silver State Helicopters had discontinued operations entirely and had filed for bankruptcy. Most students were left owing Student Loan Xpress a substantial amount of debt for training and certifications they never received. The Florida Attorney General’s Office received over 300 complaints about the company’s bankruptcy and the student loans still owed. Silver State had school locations in Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale, Lakeland, and Melbourne with at least 375 Florida students.

The settlement requires Student Loan Xpress forgive 75 percent of the total amount borrowed to the majority of Silver State Helicopters students. The percentage of loan forgiveness for the remaining students will vary by the amount of training each successfully completed.

In addition to the loan forgiveness, the agreement includes several terms of injunctive relief which will preclude Student Loan Xpress from providing negative information about students who failed to make payments on their loans prior to the settlement to any credit reporting agencies with. Further, in situations where Student Loan Xpress acts as the exclusive private loan provider for students of a private post-secondary, trade or vocational institution not certified or accredited by state of federal authorities, the company must provide written disclosures to each
prospective student-borrower stating the loans do not constitute an endorsement of the school, its principals, or the quality of education or training offered.

A related national private class action settlement was also today filed in Federal court in Florida.

“Collapsing the Walls”: a brief introduction to Mr. Lif


[Mr. Lif is back in Jacksonville tonight, performing at TSI with local legend Willie Evans, Jr., Mr. Al Pete and Night Lite. As such, it makes sense to reprint a short article I wrote previewing his Jack Rabbits gig last May. It’s funny, sort of, that I’ve interviewed Lif least twice, each time being undone by technical difficulties. Maybe the chatter was just too hot!]

Mr. Lif surveys the money jungle

Mr. Lif surveys the money jungle

The Boston-based rapper and theoretician Jeffrey Haynes [is] known professionally as Mr. Lif … Lif’s links to the River City were facilitated by the ABs; Lif’s cameo on “Supa Dynamite”–the beat for which was jacked, four years later, for Jay-Z’s hit “Empire State of Mind”–helped drive indie buzz for their debut, 2005’s “…And Now”. They opened for Perceptionists all over North America that year, while the illustrious Paten Locke, aka Therapy pulled double duty on decks in place of new father Fakts One. The Perceptionists’ debut, “Black Dialogue”, boasted beats by Willie Evans Jr., who followed with production work on Lif’s second LP, “Mo’ Mega” (2006) and the subsequent remix record, “Black Mega”.

Evans and Locke also turn up on Lif’s latest LP, “I Heard It Today”, alongside Locke’s Smile Rays cohort Batsauce, Edan, Headnodic, J Zone, Dumbtron, Vinnie Paz and the legendary Philly MC Bahamadia. It was released in May on his own Blood Bot Tactical Enterprises, in the DIY spirit embodied by Obama, whose historic victory was, among other things, a triumph for hip-hop’s aesthetics and values. Its 14 tracks are delivered with the razor-like articulation that makes Mr. Lif one of the most distinctive lyricists in all of hip-hop—the kind of singular voice that self-identifies from the first breath.

After debuting on 1997’s “Rebel Alliance” compilation, Lif dropped a series of singles and EPs from 1998-2001, recording for Def Jux and Grand Royal before a blazing run in 2002 and 2003: “Live At the Middle East” was followed by the “Emergency Rations” EP and his studio debut, “I Phantom”, four singles and at least ten guest spots on albums by El-P, Aesop Rock, Prefuse 73 and future Perceptionist Akrobatik. All told, Lif has probably appeared on at least two dozen albums and factored in the recording of hundreds of tracks as a rapper or producer. And more coming—stay tuned!

Mr. Lif@Jack Rabbits, by Liam Happenstance

Mr. Lif@Jack Rabbits, by Liam Happenstance; May 8, 2009

Nikki Talley: Small Town, Big Voice

Nikki Talley at Clemson University

Nikki Talley at Clemson University

[Also published in this week’s Folio, p.64.]

Asheville, NC native Nikki Talley is spending the end of October in Florida. Her Oct. 28 gig at the Casbah is just one of seven planned for the region, starting with a double-shot at Magnolia Fest and ending at the Milltop Tavern in St. Augustine on the 31st. A fixture in the Mid-Atlantic’s acoustic scene, Talley has played around here before, but never as intensively. She has already acquired a core group of local fans whose “vocal” support has contributed to a steady uptick of bookings.

Talley tours in support of her third album, 2008’s To Be a Bird. Its recording was funded by her winnings from “Carolina Idol” in 2007.The spareness of the stripped-down voice-and-guitars dynamic puts special pressure on the artist to exhibit both songwriting skills and a clarity of both voice and instrument. Hardly simple or cliché, it can be totally uncompromising, but Talley appears up to the challenge.

She is mostly self-taught, having learned some guitar from her mother as a child in Georgia. By 19, she was playing bar gigs in Key West. Her debut disc, Brother, was released in 2002, paid for with a grant from her local arts council, while Telling Lies (2006) was home-recorded in Toronto. All tracks from the latter can be downloaded at Amazon, and all recordings can be gotten in person or via Internets.       

Talley works as a duet, no drums, with Jason Sharp playing extra strings. The intimacy of the setting, and their telepathic chemistry in performance reflects not only their professional chops, but also their status as a married couple. Asheville’s Mountain Express notes: “Talley’s voice is quietly commanding, and her songwriting evokes a sense of sorrowful exploration.” They’re not just hyping their homegirl—the music is good. It should be no surprise that her sound is so clean. What else would you expect from a woman who makes her own soap?; October 13, 2009