Categories
ART 2021 Culture 2021 CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives

Paul Fusco’s RFK Funeral Train is a Portrait of America

Paul Fusco (1930-2020) was an acclaimed photojournalist who covered some of the most influential figures and seismic political and cultural events of the 20th century, from the activism of Cesar Chavez to the apocalypse at Chernobyl and the ravages of the 1980’s AIDS epidemic. But some of his most indelible images were made on June 8, 1968. That’s when Fusco boarded the “RFK Funeral Train” — a slow-moving engine carrying the assassinated candidate’s body from New York City to its burial place at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.

Now James Danziger and Peter Fetterman have joined forces to present the first Los Angeles showing of the newly minted master suite of RFK Funeral Train pictures — 22 images once at risk of being lost to history’s dusty archives. The exhibition, perhaps surprisingly, comprises large-scale color prints — surprisingly because we have become so accustomed to thinking of history in terms of black and white pictures. Fusco used Kodachrome film, and the contemporary masters who minted this new master set used all their skills to replicate the stock’s effect and keep its promise for vibrance, depth, and warmth.

Paul Fusco, Untitled from the RFK Train Portfolio, 1968. Signed and numbered by the artist. Archival digital C print

The images each have a unique emotion, almost a personality, and the array of views of the American people and their landscapes feels both intimate and collective. Fusco shot for the entire eight hours it took for the train to make the usually four-hour journey. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the tracks of this train as it made its way, in huge crowds, small groups, and alone. The tracks pass through urban courtyards, suburban lawns, dirt roads, and old fence posts, along bridges and byways and secluded patches of nature, farms, and even boat docks. People gather with signs and cameras and American flags, they wave and stand at attention, they cry and hug one another, they stay stoic and solemn; they’ve walked and biked and driven; they’ve been waiting all day.

[related_posts post_id_1=”726404″ /]

All these differences between visions of America are celebrated and gathered in this selection; it is impossible not to notice the racial make-up of the crowds and think about 1968 on the East Coast. But it is equally impossible to miss how throughout these differences, these people are nevertheless standing united — in grief. And they are not only grieving the loss of one man. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed the same year, and America was in trauma from the violence at home and the war abroad. Fusco’s one-day journey yielded timeless, empathetic, and masterfully composed images which it is profoundly resonant to revisit.

Paul Fusco, Untitled from the RFK Train Portfolio, 1968. Signed and numbered by the artist. Archival digital C print

As it happens, the photographs have taken something of a journey of their own. In 1968, Fusco had been on assignment for LOOK Magazine, but as the publication came out bi-weekly, he got scooped by LIFE, and none of the nearly 2,000 images he captured that day were published. When LOOK folded they donated their overall archive of something like five million photographs to the Library of Congress, which included Fusco’s in an “in there somewhere” kind of way. The artist’s own reserve of 100 pictures were also in danger of being forgotten — until an editor at Magnum showed them to JFK, Jr. who in 1998 published them in his magazine GEORGE.

It’s fitting that these exceptional pictures be rediscovered and shown now, at a time in U.S. history plagued by so many of the same persistent problems — racism, poverty, division, oppression — which RFK was so keen to combat, and at a time when taking a fresh look at history is so urgently required to reshape the future with the power of the truth.   ❖

[Editor’s note: We missed reviewing these photographs when they were shown in New York some years back and so are glad for the opportunity to share them with our readers now. More information and images can be found here: peterfetterman.com ]

Categories
Culture 2021 CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021

Islands in the Stream: Music Streaming Services and the Race to the Top

Islands in the Stream: While the world continues to open up in pretty much every other way, it’s fair to assume that streaming and downloading will be the standard means of listening to recorded music for the foreseeable future. This was true long before the pandemic hit, and it will remain true afterwards.

But where to go for our music? The days of one or two choices are long gone; nowadays, the competition is fierce. Each service offers something a little different, be it simple familiarity, better sound quality, ease of use, or compatibility with our existing devices. 

The main players in the game right now are arguably SpotifyApple MusicAmazon MusicYouTube Music, and TIDAL. Others, such as SoundCloudPandora and IHeart Radio, are still around and working to keep up.

Neal Gorevic, global head of consumer marketing at Spotify, says that his company is the world’s most popular audio streaming subscription service, armed with 70 million tracks and 2.6 million podcast titles. He’s keen to point out that, as well as a vast array of subscriptions to choose from, the free Spotify service ain’t to be sneezed at.

“No matter if you’re a Premium subscriber or a Spotify Free user, we exist to introduce you to audio we know you’ll love through best-in-class personalization,” Gorevic says. “Our signature combination of human curation and algorithmic insight helps us build a personalized music experience that’s unique to you. Plus, Spotify is available on more than 2,000 different devices. From home and car speakers to gaming consoles, Spotify offers countless convenient ways to listen and discover no matter what you’re looking for or where you are.”

Amazon Music, a relative new kid on the block, says that they aim to expand premium music streaming to new customers with innovative products, like voice features with Alexa, high-quality sound with Amazon Music HD, Twitch live streams and artist merchandise in-app, and podcasts.

“We’re always working to introduce innovative new features that create a richer, more immersive experience that connects our customers with the artists and creators they love,” says an Amazon spokesperson. “We wanted music fans to be able to hear music the way artists recorded it, that’s why back in September 2019 we were the first major streaming service to introduce a high-quality streaming tier with Amazon Music HD. And in May of this year, we announced that going forward, our high-quality streaming tier, Amazon Music HD, is available to all Amazon Music Unlimited customers at no extra cost, unlocking access to the highest-quality streaming audio for even more music fans.”

Amazon purchased Twitch in 2014, and in September 2020 they partnered to add Twitch’s live streaming functionality into the Amazon Music app. That, in combination with their new DJ mode, proves that Amazon are serious players in this game. Meanwhile, YouTube has long been a valuable resource for listening to beloved songs and discovering new artists. The dedicated YouTube Music makes the whole process a little more convenient.

“YouTube Music is the only music streaming service with official singles, albums, playlists, remixes, music videos, live performances, covers, and hard-to-find music you can’t get anywhere else,” said a YouTube spokesperson. “With YouTube Music, you can listen to the latest hits, find songs that you love, stay connected to the music world, and discover tons of new music to enjoy on your devices. YouTube Music Premium ($9.99/month) allows fans to listen ad-free, in the background and on-the-go with downloads.”

Apple Music and TIDAL are also considered big guns in the streaming game, though recent years have been tougher on Soundcloud. Many have moved on, but there’s a determination at SoundCloud and they shouldn’t be counted out quite yet.

“What differentiates SoundCloud amongst other music streaming services is that music streaming represents only one part of our business,” says a SoundCloud spokesperson. “Only SoundCloud runs two businesses, a music streaming service with one of the world’s largest and most diverse catalogues and an artist services business, empowering artists to build and grow their careers by providing them with the most progressive tools and services like monetization, distribution and marketing.”

••

Naturally, the various employees at the various streaming services are keen to point out the positive traits that they have to offer. And it’s difficult to say that one is “better” than another because it’s all very subjective depending on what the listener wants out of a service, what device they listen on, etc. Apple devices, for example, are now very much geared towards Apple Music which integrates iTunes with the streaming and downloading app. The recent COVID lockdown essentially forced all of the companies to consider what users might want and need.

“We know over the past year both creators and our users have been looking for new ways to feel connected, and we’ve seen audio bring people together like never before,” says Gorevic of Spotify. That company launched a COVID relief fund to aid members of the music community, as well as virtual concert listings, and more.

L: Spotify’s Neal Gorevic / R: Tidal’s Lior Tibon

“Amid the coronavirus pandemic, we saw artists turn to live streaming as their preeminent outlet to connect with fans while they were unable to tour,” says an Amazon spokesperson. “Twitch has long been at the forefront of connecting creators and fans through live streaming experiences, and Amazon Music recognized prior to the pandemic that this technology represented a new frontier for artists looking to combine live with on-demand streaming experiences. Our relationship with Twitch made us uniquely able to go even further, and make their live streaming capabilities available to even more fans by adding the feature to our mobile app.”

YouTube hosted virtual shows and launched a new activity bar feature. Pandora, too, hosted shows, playlists and personal stories. Pandora was also the first to have integrations with leading smart home products from Apple’s HomePod to Amazon’s Echo devices. In addition, Pandora was recently purchased by SiriusXM, allowing for cross-platform features. SoundCloud livestreamed through its own channel on Twitch, and introduced a direct support feature and a $10 million artist accelerator fund.

Meanwhile, Norwegian subscription-based streaming service TIDAL was purchased by Square and founder Jack Dorsey.

“The acquisition by Square only strengthened TIDAL’s commitment to supporting artists and strengthening the artist to fan connection,” says COO Lior Tibon.

Some users might feel frustrated when Spotify adds songs to a user-selected playlist, but Gorevic says that they are committed to helping users discover new music.

“There isn’t just one Spotify experience, but rather 356 million+ different Spotify experiences unique to each user,” he says. “Our algorithmic recommendations are personalized to each listener’s unique taste, taking into account a variety of factors: what you’re listening to and when, which songs you’re adding to your playlists, and the listening habits of people who have similar tastes.”

••

So nobody is resting on their laurels – not the industry leaders and certainly not those currently playing catch-up. One area being explored as a potential means of getting ahead is sound quality, with Apple Music now offering Dolby Atmos and hi-def as a free upgrade.

“Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos gives artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences for their fans with true multidimensional sound and clarity that comes from all around and from above the listener,” reads an Apple statement. “Beginning today, subscribers can enjoy thousands of songs in Spatial Audio from some of the world’s biggest artists and music across all genres. Albums that are available in Spatial Audio will have a badge on the detail page to make them easily discernible and Apple Music is also offering a special set of editorially curated Spatial Audio playlists to help listeners find the music they love and enable further discovery.”

“Earlier this year at Spotify’s Stream On virtual event, we announced our plans to unveil Spotify HiFi, our new high-quality music experience,” adds Gorevic. “High-quality music streaming is consistently one the most requested new features by our users and at Spotify, we will continue to go all-in on the limitless power of audio and provide the best audio experience for our users.”

Amazon says that they’re pushing the evolution of the industry, “by offering our customers the ability to hear 3D Audio, which includes both Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 RA formats. Available to Amazon Music HD customers with an Echo Studio, 3D Audio allows artists and creators to deliver immersive listening experiences by placing music objects – such as vocals and instrumentals – in a three-dimensional space, creating a listening experience unlike any other.”

TIDAL’s Lior Tibon says that his company is focused on the experience of music.

“Since 2016 TIDAL has been nurturing and building a community of audiophiles, and more importantly, has prioritized the mission to bring the most advanced and quality experience to listeners through both high-fidelity and immersive audio,” he says. “As a pioneer in audio technology and experiences, TIDAL offers the largest variety of audio formats – including MQA, as well as Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.”

••

Things are starting to open up, and it’s probable that there won’t be such a great focus on virtual events moving forward.

“[Spotify is] excited to get back to live events as parts of the world begin to open up,” says Gorevic. “Our Spotify for Artists app provides valuable data to help creators understand listening habits, see where they’ve built their fanbase, and plan tours based on the momentum and excitement that’s been building up around their music over the past year.”

“It’s still day one for us at Amazon Music, and we’re very excited about the future,” adds an Amazon spokesperson. “It’s the most exciting time there has ever been in the music industry and we will continue to innovate, creating new features and content that will help music fans and artists connect in ways we only dreamed about a few years ago.”

YouTube says that they’re going to continue meeting listeners where they are:

“We aim to provide fans with the most seamless, all-in-one music experience and YouTube Premium provides just that – a seamless, ad-free experience that lets you effortlessly move between YouTube and YouTube Music to explore the world’s largest catalog of songs, music videos, live shows, culture, and everything behind the beats.”

Similarly, SoundCloud says that they’re looking forward to getting back out and communicating directly with their community.

“We launched the SoundCloud Forum a few years ago, which is an experiential platform that brings everything you love about SoundCloud directly to the core communities pushing music culture forward. This past year we took the forum online, though the year prior we held events in Toronto, Miami, Atlanta and Amsterdam.”

“We believe the future is hybrid and connecting audiences digitally and IRL will be the future of how entertainment helps to bring communities together who share the same love of music around the world,” adds TIDAL’s Tibon. “We’re looking forward to TIDAL driving how our members experience concerts and festivals through on-site experience and virtually.”

••

So what does the future hold? Who will retain a place at the top table and who will fall away? Will any of the current strugglers force a glorious comeback? It remains to be seen.

“This is an interesting point in time when music services are evolving to become more than just a music store,” says the Amazon spokesperson. “You can see this in the moves Amazon Music made over the last year; adding live streaming brings a new dimension to a music service, as does adding podcasts and in-app merch. Amazon Music is enriching the user experience, and adding a new listening experience to one customers already enjoy.”

“We‘ve always been focused on connecting creators and fans – it’s rooted in our mission as a company,” adds Spotify’s Gorevic. “Whether we’re providing fans with exclusive content from their favorite artist or incorporating features that allow fans to directly support podcasters’ careers, we’ll continue creating new ways to deepen that creator and fan relationship through our platform. This is a major space to watch in the coming years.”

TIDAL’s Tibon says that there has been a seismic shift in the last few years in how music is consumed and valued.

“Technology advancements have allowed fans to have the highest music quality in their pockets,” he says. “We’re hoping to see continued advancements for the listening experience, and more importantly we hope to see artists properly compensated for their art across the board. Both of these elements are incredibly important to TIDAL’s mission and we’ll continue to push this forward across the industry.”

The competition will be fascinating.    ❖

Categories
ART 2021 COMICS ARCHIVES Culture 2021 CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives

Freddie Mercury Gets the Superhero Treatment – REDIRECT 2

TEST The universe of comic books and graphic novels expands far past the superhero genre, but the world-changing, life-givingly radiant genius of Freddie Mercury still qualifies. His voice, passion and charisma definitely count as superpowers – and Z2 Comics is about to give Mercury the royal fanfare he deserves, with Freddie Mercury: Lover of Life, Singer of Songs.

From his youth in Zanzibar and India, through his early life in England and his ascension to the rock pantheon, to the demons he faced down toward the end of his life, the book follows the classic hero’s journey narrative arc evocative of mythological origin stories. Its writer, Tres Dean, is careful to present the stories through Mercury’s words and perspective, recently thoroughly explored in both film and nonfiction anthology. With a personality as large as his and an intoxicating flair for fearless poetry and radical living out loud, Mercury’s own words are as rich a primary source as a storyteller could wish for, and the energy he brought to living comes through in an epic way.

Richly and lovingly illustrated by Kyla Smith, Robin Richardson, Safiya Zerrougui, Tammy Wang, and Amy Liu, with a majestic cover painting by David Mack, and a further limited-edition print by Sarah Jones, the artistry takes its flights of fancy seriously. The visuals are grounded in the expressive rendering of salient actions and events but also exuberant in the freedom of interpretation and expression afforded the artists to bring their own visions to inform the fullness of the book’s vision. This is, in its own way, a heartfelt tribute to Mercury, who himself studied visual art and illustration in London before the gods of music found him in 1971 – 50 years ago this year.

Freddie Mercury by Sarah Jones

The book not only paints moving biographical details with honesty and emotion and an eye for effective detail, but is in its own form also flush with Mercury’s own love of all creative expressions, from visual arts to opera, ballet, theater, cinema and fashion. Z2 Comics itself has pioneered the genre of graphic novels enshrining the lives of music legends from Elvis to Beethoven, the Doors to the Dead. Their softcover and hardcover editions are gorgeous and affordable; their deluxe editions include fine art prints and, in this case, a limited vinyl – touching on all the things that gave Mercury, Queen, and their legions of adoring fans such joy in their work.   ❖

Pre-order for November 2021 release at z2comics.com.

Categories
Culture 2021 CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

When Nas and Lauryn Hill Ruled the World

Twenty-five years ago today, Queensbridge-based rapper Nas released the first single from his highly-anticipated second album, It Was Written. It had been two years since the release of his groundbreaking debut album Illmatic, which had received critical praise and garnered the attention of hip-hop fans but had not produced a commercially viable hit that would generate record sales. Then again, Illmatic wasn’t meant to be a pop album but rather a showcase of this new artist’s creative ingenuity and lyrical ability. 

With It Was Written, Columbia Records wanted a marketable single for Nas without compromising his integrity as a storyteller and street poet. By early 1996, the label, not well-known for producing rap music at the time, achieved worldwide success in the genre thanks to the supergroup Fugees — comprised of Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras — as their final studio album The Score peaked at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, selling 22 million copies worldwide (making it one of the best-selling albums in history) and earning them two Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (“Killing Me Softly”). Though the trio broke up shortly following the album’s release, all three members signed individual deals with Columbia and began working on solo projects.

While Hill would shortly begin work on her own soon-to-be-be seminal album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, some maestro at the record company — or perhaps Nas himself — had the wise idea of featuring Hill on his next album, set to release less than six months after the Fugees’ instant masterpiece. The pairing of the two artists was a no-brainer: both were East Coast-centric artists and didn’t shy away from exploring the realities of their time, from street-level perspectives to personal strife.

[related_posts post_id_1=”366900″ /]

Released on June 4, 1996, the Trackmasters-produced “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” — based on the Kurtis Blow song of the same name released eleven years earlier — brought modern activism to the mainstream, discussing racial inequality, injustices within the prison system, poverty, classism, and the need for reform. The song quickly became a hit on radio and on MTV, where a Hype Williams-directed music video — featuring scenes with Nas and Lauryn Hill on a flatbed truck in Times Square juxtaposed with the rapper among friends in his childhood Queensbridge Projects — played on rotation, garnering even wider attention and earning the song a Grammy Award nomination. 

Fans in the hip-hop community criticized Nas for bowing to the pressures of appealing to a wider audience but the single proved its promotional worth. Less than one month later, It Was Written debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 and went on to earn double-platinum status, making it Nas’s biggest-selling album to date. 

Nas has gone on to record ten more solo studio albums, most to critical acclaim but never again as successful. However, his body of work and longevity affirms his place in hip-hop history. Hill only released one album, considered one of the greatest of all time, selling 12 million copies worldwide and winning five Grammy Awards, but that’s all she needed to leave her indelible mark. 

 A quarter century later, “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” continues to reverberate throughout our culture, evoking a message of change and hope that still resonates today.    ❖