Creativity and Boundaries

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Last week, I wrote that ChatGPT and other large language AI models are “world changing technology on the scale of the wheel and the light bulb, and we’re treating it like it’s Candy Crush on our cell phones.” The snowballing enthusiasm for AI art shows just how unprepared we are for AI’s implications. We are already seeing attempts to recreate the work of dead artists or “improve” existing works of art. Sure, some of it looks cool, or sounds cool. And for the average distracted citizen of this poor ruined world, that’s enough to make it a good thing.

But it’s not good, because AI art is not art. It’s a magic trick that devalues all art and all artists. Not only that, it turns the promise of AI on its head: wasn’t AI (or automation, as it was known in analog days) supposed to replace all of the menial jobs and free human beings to create art and music, instead of doing exactly the opposite?

In a recent story in Spin by digital entrepreneur Les Borsai suggests that artists could use AI tools to keep performing music at a high level even as they age. What he does not overtly say, but which is implied by the piece, is after artists die, AI could continue to produce “new” music by them. Borsai concludes, “So let’s raise a glass to the future of music, where creativity transcends boundaries, and artists can achieve a unique form of immortality!”

Louder for the people in the back: fuck that.

It is a sad thing when artists lose their fastball as they age, or when they die, but using AI to keep them viable, or “alive,” would not represent an artistic triumph to celebrate. In life, it’s fraudulent. In death, it’s grave robbery. Many of those who are excited by it are excited about the revenue streams flowing from AI art without caring about the art itself. These people are enemies of art, who should be fought as hard as we’d fight any other enemy trying to destroy what we believe in and value.

Some other stuff that you might find interesting is on the flip:

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Rock Stars and Supermodels

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(Pictured: Styx singer and keyboard player Lawrence Gowan onstage in 2021.)

So last week I got to talk to Lawrence Gowan from Styx for my radio show. Despite many years in radio, meeting and/or interviewing celebrities is not an experience I have had all that often.

I think I have probably told most of the stories here already. The first rock stars I ever actually met were Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere of Dr. Hook. I got to hang backstage with Paul Kantner and Jack Casady. I watched Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon go off on a roadie over a bottle of water, although he may have been kidding. I was taken backstage at a Guess Who show to meet the road manager, who turned out to be original bassist Jim Kale. I sat down to interview Eddie Money only to find that the batteries in my tape recorder were dead. When we finally got to talk, he impressed me with how businesslike he was. Before I could ask John Cafferty a question, he asked me one: “where am I?” He wasn’t impaired, just sleepy, and he’d gotten on the bus after the previous night’s show without worrying about where the next town was. When I was a little baby DJ in Dubuque, Kate Mulgrew was a live guest on a show I co-hosted. The radio company I work for today does an annual three-day benefit for Madison’s American Family Children’s Hospital. One year, in my capacity as a producer, I talked to supermodel Cindy Crawford for 15 seconds after she called in to do a segment with the hosts.

But that’s it, to the extent I can remember anymore.

I am not especially bothered about it. I am not a good interviewer, and I don’t particularly enjoy it. The easiest interviews for me are the ones where all I have to do is wind up the guest and let them go. Lawrence Gowan was like that; I am pretty sure I didn’t ask him anything he hasn’t already been asked a thousand times, so doing the interview was easy for both of us.

Since there’s some of the word count left, here are a few things that have passed through my Twitter feed recently:

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Accumulated Stuff

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(Pictured: by 1997, Super Bowl entertainment had gotten more hip than it had ever been, but that year’s game also included whatever the hell this is.)

Those of us who are still on Twitter can’t help but be gobsmacked at just how bad Elon Musk has been at running the place. Quite literally nothing he has done makes any sense at all, from completely misunderstanding the original blue checks (to help users know which feed claiming to be Taylor Swift was the real one), to eliminating content moderation and replatforming actual Nazis, to putting the Twitter API behind a $100 per month paywall, the latter of which is supposed to happen today. He says paywalling the API will cut down the number of bots, but while it’s killing the bots that say bad things about him (which seems to be his main goal), it will also kill harmless, useful, even vital services that use the API, such as the ones that allow disabled people to communicate on Twitter. And anybody strongly devoted to spreading damaging misinformation on a world-altering scale isn’t going to be stopped by $100 per month anyway.

But I haven’t left Twitter yet. A small account such as mine has less trouble with bots and Nazis than one with thousands of followers. I still perceive some value in it, but I suspect not for long. I have heard that Tweetdeck, a Twitter product that provides an ad-free experience with a much less-clunky interface than desktop Twitter or the mobile app, is also going behind a paywall. Once that happens, and once the useful and/or entertaining bot accounts are gone, it’ll be time to say sayonara, Elon.

Apart from pre-emptively mourning the people I will lose touch with, I am also pre-emptively mourning the interesting stuff I’m going to miss reading when I finally decide to leave Twitter, or when Twitter leaves me. Here’s some of that:

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Treat Her Right

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(Pictured: Irlene, Barbara, and Louise Mandrell, circa 1980.)

I’d like to thank everybody for their insightful comments On Here recently. I started writing comments of my own in response and then decided to make ’em a whole post.

On monologues: the king of the monologue might have been Isaac Hayes, who built epic versions of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Walk on By,” and others around long spoken pieces. Even on “Theme From Shaft,” he doesn’t sing, he talks. In the 70s, “Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites and “Float On” by the Floaters were both massive monologue hits. The Chi-Lites also scored a more modest monologue hit with “A Letter to Myself.” A quick spin through a couple of Reddit threads reveals that spoken bits are still pretty common, although some of the examples elide the difference between speaking and rapping. (Hayes called his spoken interludes “raps” before most anybody else used the word as a noun.)

On Barbara Mandrell, who covered “Woman to Woman,” the song that started the monologue discussion: People don’t realize or remember just how big a star Barbara Mandrell was. She’s a multi-instrumentalist who came up in the early 70s and covered R&B songs right from the start, including “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Do Right Woman (Do Right Man), along with Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right” and Joe Tex’s “Show Me.” She scored 22 Top-10 hits between 1977 and 1988, including six #1 songs. The list of #1s includes her version of Luther Ingram’s “I Don’t Want to Be Right,” which was also a Top-10 hit on the adult contemporary chart in 1979. Her turn-of-the-80s work also includes the devastating “Years,” a candidate for Saddest Song of All Time.

Somebody with a better work ethic than me needs to do some serious research into the way getting a TV show affected a performer’s chart career. Although Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and the Captain and Tennille all scored radio hits after getting on TV, their careers were never the same. That doesn’t seem to have been true for Mandrell, however. Her variety show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, ran for two years on NBC (1980-1982) before Barbara walked away from it, and in that period she continued to hit consistently. It took a 1984 car accident to slow her roll, but even that couldn’t stop it. Her last chart hit came in 1989; her last single release was in 1991, the same year as her last major-label release. She released two more albums in 1994 as TV promotions.

Few performers retire as definitively as Barbara Mandrell did. After pursuing an acting career in the 1990s, she retired from recording and performing in 1997. Her last acting credit at IMDB is a role in 2000. Last August, she made a surprise appearance onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. On Christmas Day, she will celebrate her 74th birthday.

Since I find myself with some of the word count left and I don’t know how to shut up, here are some worthwhile stories that passed through my Twitter feed recently:

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The Line That’s Missing

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(Pictured: Mary Chapin Carpenter onstage in 2018.)

I was so young when I first heard Elton John’s “Your Song” that it was years before I realized the terrible majesty of  “If I was a sculptor / <chuckle> But then again, no.” Bernie Taupin would eventually be famed for poetical inventions that ranged from Dali-esque surrealism to complete gibberish, but even he couldn’t come up with something better in place of that line.

But then again (see what I did there), there’s admirable honesty in admitting you’re beaten and that you need to get the song out the door and onto the album. In her song “Stones in the Road,” Mary Chapin Carpenter sings:

And now we drink our coffee on the run
We climb that ladder rung by rung
We are the daughters and the sons
And here’s the line that’s missing

That kind of thing seems qualitatively different from Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” where the lack of a suitable line is actually a suitable line:

Well we got no class
And we got no principals
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes

If you know other examples of throwaway lines like these, please share them with the entire class.

On Another Matter: I have not tweeted a lot of worthwhile reading material lately. Maybe it’s a function of the way Twitter is circling the drain, or maybe my attention span is shot. But here are a few things:

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Going Back

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(Pictured: writer and arranger Anita Kerr at work in 1973.)

Last weekend The Mrs. and I went back to the Illinois college town where we lived for three years in the middle of the 80s. As I wrote earlier this week, when we left, we left for good: we think it’s only the second time either of us has been back since 1987. I would not have recognized the house we rented when we lived there if Ann hadn’t pointed it out to me; the trees on the street are far taller now, and the house is a different color. It looks like it’s been a rental ever since, as it’s gotten pretty shabby.

In general, a lot of things around town were vaguely familiar, but a lot of it we didn’t remember at all. True, 35 years is a long damn time to be gone, even from a familiar place. But also, I think we knew back then, in the way you “know” things when you’re in your mid-20s and just starting out, that we weren’t going to be there forever, or even for very long. And so we didn’t let it become part of us the way the Quad Cities did, or Iowa City (where we didn’t live as long).

On Monday I linked to a post I wrote in 2018 about “the badly run station in the nowhere town,” and if you didn’t click on it then, you’re welcome to do so now. The rather entertaining story of how my brief tenure there ended, which was written in 2007, is here. I noodled with new ideas to write about all week, but I got nothin’. It was a place we lived, we went back, we looked at stuff, we stayed overnight, then we got up and left. We may go back someday, I suppose. If our pattern holds, I’ll be 97 years old when we do.

To give you the type of value you expect from this low-rent Internet shebeen, let’s go back over some stuff that has passed through my Twitter feed this week, on the flip.

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