Our Fourth Anniversary

X and I celebrated our anniversary in style. We checked off one of the city’s landmarks from our must-see list by heading to Carnegie Hall. In our typical fashion, we arrived just in time, scooting into our seats just before the conductor took the stage.

The Cleveland Orchestra was not what I had in mind when I went looking for tickets to the symphony – no offense to Tristan, but Cleveland is not the first city that comes to mind in that department. But I give respect where it’s due; they put on a very strong performance. The first piece was a Mozart symphony (No. 25 in G minor), which was nice, but the second piece, Debussy’s Nocturnes, was outstanding. It brought together all the elements of a beautiful symphonic piece, the grand crescendos, the deafening silence, and all the unique sounds that you don’t get from pop music. There was one point where I was scanning the stage to find the soloing oboist.

Unfortunately the last piece was a real downer, Janácek’s Slavonic Mass. Talk about a snoozer. I couldn’t dig the melody, couldn’t even find the rhythm. I ended up dozing off in the middle of it, a trick I must have picked up from my dad, who in the old days could be counted on to fall asleep before the end of the overture when we used to go see the Nutcracker.

I managed to rouse myself towards the end of the Sanctus and we watched the conductor and the four soloists take several more curtain calls than I thought necessary. We lingered while people filed out and then walked down to the edge of the level we were sitting on, the Dress Circle, and had a look around. Carnegie Hall is truly a majestic theater, a testament to the ages. As we stood there taking it in, nearly alone in its hallowed warmth, it struck me that that is exactly what I want this marriage, this love, to be.

“Child Killer” Murdered by Copyright Law

For shame! My homemade epic, “Child Killer,” has been removed from YouTube!


Dear portfola,

Video Disabled

A copyright owner has claimed it owns some or all of the audio content in your video Child Killer. The audio content identified in your video is Break On Through by The Doors. We regret to inform you that your video has been blocked from playback due to a music rights issue.

I didn’t see that one coming, no. Since I first posted it online over two years ago, Child Killer has gotten maybe 100 views on YouTube, half of which I am accountable for – but one of those others was apparently a mole working for Warner Music Group, who successfully ferreted out HanftPort Productions’ flagrant violation of copyright law. The film does feature liberal playtime for “Break on Through” – it plays in at least two scenes, and total playtime amounts to nearly the entire song. I wonder what Warner would ask of our small independent label for the rights?

This episode follows another recent encounter I had with the agents of artistic and commercial integrity. In a letter last June, my local internet service provider informed me that

… we have received notification from one or more owners of copyrights claiming that their work has been transmitted over the Internet from your account without their permission… We are concerned that either you or a person with access to your account may be unknowingly participating in certain file sharing or server-related activities that led to this complaint.

Included with that letter are copies of emails sent to the ISP on behalf of HBO’s legal team requesting that my account be shut down for downloading the HBO original movie “Recount,” about the 2000 election (a most enjoyable film!) They had the details of the download, including the exact file name and size, and my IP address. Hard to argue with that.

It was just a warning. The ISP was very nice about it, really, taking pains to avoid outright accusing me, and assuring me that I would not lose my service or go to jail if I just stopped downloading stuff. HBO does not have my identity, although this post would give it away quite neatly if they cared to look. But really, they don’t. They just want to scare me into subscribing to HBO, which I won’t since it isn’t worth it, even with good movies like “Recount.” (Although I will miss Season 2 of “Flight of the Conchords,” which is bloody brilliant. Pity.)

Copyright law as it stands today is flawed. We still need laws to prevent people getting ripped off, but as Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing has put it, most musicians’ problem isn’t piracy, it’s anonymity. It’s obscurity. The idea is to get your stuff out there, not keep it away from people. This is the same for most artists in general. Of course it’s not true for large media conglomerates like WMG and Viacom.

We talked about this recently in the Junta, and I learned something very interesting. In the traditional business model of the music business, the only ones making money – real money – off records were the record companies. The artists lived off their advances, their ticket sales, their promotional deals, etc. and the only ones making real money off records were maybe the top 100 artists in the business. That business model is rapidly swirling down the drain.

So while we won’t have Child Killer on YouTube anymore, we’ll find somewhere else to host it. And while we won’t download HBO original movies anymore, we’ll surely continue sharing media with friends and strangers for a long time. As Doctorow has said, the technology for copying and sharing this stuff isn’t going to get any harder. Those who are smart enough to learn the new rules will prosper in the new era, and those who troll the internet looking for violators will be left in the dust.

Piers Shines in last high school performance

Family Shot at Piers's Show
Family Shot at Piers’s Show

Saturday night Piers performed in his last high school production, playing the god of death in the musical “Once on This Island.” It was a very ambitious show for these kids to put on, full of large-scale dance scenes that clearly required many hours of careful choreography. And I call them kids because they are, after all, children – but watching the New Players perform is always an amazement at how professional these adolescents are. They are so good, so serious – and yet so young – that it’s actually intimidating. And I find myself laughing to ward off the fear.

Piers was wonderful, but in typical style, he didn’t think so. He said his voice was off, that he wasn’t focused, etc. And I have to agree that I liked “Into the Woods” much more, which I saw him perform this winter. But that was really because I liked the story more. “Into the Woods” was more developed in my opinion, and the music was better. I couldn’t point to any songs in “Once on This Island” that I really liked. But that was ok, because I was really just there for Piers.

It’s really cool to see all these kids after a show: they are all so high on adrenalin, and they’re always on their way to the cast party. Many audience members form a sort of gauntlet outside the dressing rooms and wait for their family members to come out, and then the place turns into a madhouse while everyone hugs, cries, laughs and snaps photos. Some choose to wait outside because it really is just too much.

Now Piers is headed to Carnegie Mellon University, where he has been admitted into the prestigious voice program. My sources tell me that they only accept eight students into the program each year. This is high vindication for Piers, who took a lot of shit off Mom and Dad for his bad grades throughout his career. While he struggled to keep up his French scores, he was busy attending rehearsals till 11pm every night and performing 3 or 4 shows a year, plus directing others, taking voice lessons, and even mentoring younger singers. All that and he held down a job in town (well, most of the time… hahaha for those in the know).

All the while he told the ‘rents: don’t worry, I’ll graduate, I’ll get into college. And now he’s in one of the best damn schools in the country. Way to go, Bory!

Mom and I are actually driving him out there in another week, which I’m sort of looking forward to, except for the 14 horus of driving and the 2 nights away from Xianyi. But it will be cool to see where he’s going to be. The drive back promises to be tragic as Mom tries and fails to hold it together after seeing her last child off into the world. God bless her.

Congratulations, Piers, for being AWESOME!

In for a Grilling

This is my piece in this month’s That’s Shanghai about being American in this city.

Uncle Sam

In for a Grilling

Waving the Star-Spangled Banner in Shanghai

Part of living in a foreign land means people often ask where you’’re from. A simple exercise for normal people, but a delicate one for us Americans in China, who learn to take for granted that our nationality will be readily apparent from the moment we open our mouth. We caught on to this after the first thousand times we answered “America”, only to have the questioner roll his eyes knowingly and say, “”Yeah, but where?”” Though we may, in return, feign interest in others’’ specific regional origins, rest assured we are merely being polite; we do not recognize any differences between Essex or Sussex, Nice or Lyon, Austria or Australia.

Americans have it tough. As the self-appointed leaders of the civilized world, we have to be sure we are setting a good example. When we’’re introducing backward nations to the joys of participatory government or entertaining the throngs with films of monolithic morality, we always strive to ensure our intentions are being perceived in the best manner. But though we are saddled with the burden of global empire, we Americans still have our small pleasures. And one of those is living abroad.

Here in China, Americans are afforded a privileged status among foreigners. When Chinese guess what country we’’re from, they always guess right. It must be frustrating for French, British and particularly Canadians to have to repeatedly admit that they do not in fact form part of the planet’’s preeminent population. Just the other day I was having lunch with a Kiwi friend at our local canteen and an old Chinese man asked us to join him.

““America!”” he said, ““Very good!””

And New Zealand? “”It’’s OK.””

Kiwis and other non-American English speakers have further reason to complain. While not entirely opposed to their own native tongue fast becoming the world’’s linguistic medium, they tend to rue the fact that Americans have engineered this development, as we have taken to abusing the language’’s normally benign powers of adaptation to create such colorful phrases as “”I’’m so there”,” and “”Where you at?”” Yet even as greater numbers of Americans are unable to write a coherent sentence, still our words ring out vociferously above those who sing the virtues of proper grammar, as well as those simply trying to eat their breakfast in peace.

America has no cuisine of its own, but rather gets its culinary traditions the same way it acquired its land: by taking what once belonged to others and making it uniquely ours. Thus Italian pasta became our macaroni and cheese, German beefsteak our double bacon cheeseburger, and indigenous maize our microwave popcorn. But there is at least one cooking method that we have pioneered and perfected.

Walking around Shanghai, one could be forgiven for thinking the title belonged to Brazilians; but Americans are the true champions of barbeque. So enamored are we of the charcoal pit that we have demarcated our summer grilling seasons with a beginning, middle and end: three holidays devoted to flying the flag and flipping burgers.

Memorial Day has passed us by and Independence Day is now upon us. Americans everywhere can once again be found outside grilling meat in honor of their country, even here in distant, foreign Shanghai. Whether in the backyards of Hongqiao or the rooftops of Huaihai, there is sure to be smoke rising from an American grill every weekend from now through the season finale on Labor Day -– and well beyond. So if you’’re craving an enlightening discussion of civics or geography, that is where you can find us at.

Photos of Early Reform Period

1979 Summer Palace, Beijing
When the ban on public dancing was lifted, dancing to rock ‘n roll music was still remote. The spectators stood far apart, and injected occasional criticisms. (1979 Summar Palace, Beijing). Photo from EastSouthWestNorth.

After the Cultural Revolution ended with the death of Mao in 1976, and Deng Xiaoping took over the country and decided that economic reform was the way forward, tremendous changes took place in China. A Chinese blogger who goes by ESWN (EastSouthWestNorth) has discovered about 20 fabulous pictures from the 70s and 80s that are definitely worth checking out. This was a time when bans were being lifted on foreign products, as well as on dancing and games; foreign art was making its way into China, and the people were allowed small avenues of expression such as the Democracy Wall. Have a look at these pictures. I found them through a post on Shanghaiist, a great city blog.