Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bitcoin and the Rise of a Digital Counterculture

I went to a bitcoin conference in the city at the end of July, and this was part of my dispatch (you can read the whole post over at MoneyBeat). Becoming very interested in bitcoin, not as an investment, but as a story.

It was quite the experience, and I expect I'll be writing a lot more about it. If it takes off the way its proponents say it's going to, everybody will be writing a lot more about it.

Here's the post:
You say you want a revolution? 
Several hundred entrepreneurs, dreamers, technophiles, and the simply curious gathered Tuesday in midtown Manhattan for “Inside Bitcoins,” a one-day conference promoting and exploring the mushrooming world of digital currencies. 
There was a lot of talk about regulatory hurdles, and freedom of speech, replacing an archaic financial system, and of course fiat currencies, which are almost treated like a dirty word among the faithful. What emerged from the conference, to our eyes at least, is something more singular: The rise of a digital counterculture that in its anti-authoritarian, Utopian idealism resembles the counterculture of the 1960s. 
It wasn’t just that the people at the conference – about 350 attended, according to Mediabistro, which sponsored it – were mostly male and overwhelmingly young, that sneakers and t-shirts outnumbered loafers and suit jackets, that the enthusiastic kids acted like they were at a Coachella festival as much as at an investing conference. 
Ever since the rise of the Microsoft Millionaires, the idea of whiz-kids in jeans striking it rich has been part of the American culture. What is unusual is the sense that these kids are present at the birth of something big, eyewitness to a sea change in society. To a one, the people we talked with all spoke of bitcoin in terms that echoed earlier Utopian movements. 
“This is really a revolution,” said. Patrick Griffin, an executive at the startup Ripple and a panelist on one of the sessions.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

I Know How to Write the Screenplay for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I know how to make Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance into a film. At least, I think I do. If you're not a fan or the book, this is not the post for you. If you are a fan, or haven't read the book but are supremely bored just about now with what's trending on Twitter, well, maybe this is the post for you.

Robert Pirsig and his son, Chris, 1968.
There's a scene in Lila, the follow-up to Zen, where Pirsig has a meeting with Robert Redford, who had, I believe, optioned the first novel and wanted to make a movie of it. Redford's idea was to start with a scene where Pirsig, as a college professor, was sitting in front of his class, at his desk, not saying a word. From there, Redford planned to tell the story through flashbacks.

It never went anywhere, obviously, and Zen remains one of those kinds of books that Hollywood, I think, hates: popular, but unfilmable. There is a standard narration that carries Zen, but the meat of the book, what really makes it such a classic, is almost all the first-person thoughts that the narrator presents as he's making his cross-country motorcycle trip, and it's all very heavy on philosophical exposition. Avatar this ain't, Hell it's not even as accessibly as The Great Gatsby. Nobody could make a film out of ZMM.

But I think I could. Not only that, I think I could do it well.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Greatest Band Ever, Worst Movie Ever?

So I was flipping around the channel guide like an hour ago, and saw that Blues Brothers 2000 was on; I'd already missed the first hour or so. I'd never seen it (choosing not to sully the memory of the late John Belushi by even watching it, a sentiment nobody involved in the movie seemed to share), nothing else was on, it was late, I was tired, so I figured, hey, why not see just how bad this train wreck was. The music's got to be pretty good at least, right?

Well, it was bad. Really awful. Like, you wonder how they possibly could've even let it be released bad. No doubt. But the music was good, really good, and one sequence contained what might qualify as the greatest band ever. I don't know if Blues Brothers 2000 is the worst movie ever, I'm sure it would hold its own in any discussion, but you could dump the entire Pacific in the gap between the quality of the music and the script, and this one scene, with this one band, is like a glistening pearl in a toxic waste dump. Coming across it late at night was such a shock that I'm sitting here buzzing over it, compelled to write about it and wondering if anybody else ever got far enough into the movie to notice this all-time, all-star band.

So, the Blues Brothers band, for reasons I missed, enters this weird bayou battle of the bands, and the band they're going up against, the Louisiana Gator Boys, well, just look for yourself:

This is the second song they did in the movie, and you can see who's in the band. It's an absolutely unbelievable assembly. B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Dr. John, Jimmy Vaughn, Gary Bonds, Billy Preston, Lou Rawls, Clarence Clemens, Isaac Hayes, Koko Taylor, Travis Tritt, Steve Winwood, people I didn't even recognize. The clip above is okay, but the first song they did, the B.B. King song "How Blue Can You Get," is way better than this, although I couldn't find a clip of it. But it's absolutely sick. It seriously might be the greatest single assemblage of musical talent, like, ever. Can you think of a better one? The entire God-awful movie is worth sitting through just to get to that one scene.

This song's pretty good, too, with Erykah Badu singing, after she turned the Blues Brothers into what I think are supposed to be zombies, and a pretty impressive piano solo from Paul Shaffer:

And all for this lousy movie. It just doesn't make sense, but there it is. Those are the only songs I saw by the way. Now I'm seriously thinking of going back and watching the rest of this train wreck, just for the music.

Also, it all reminded me, if you've never been to Jazz Fest in New Orleans, you are missing what is surely the best music festival in the nation, hands down. Go. Just, go.