Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Why OnStar is teh suxxor

I was so excited to learn my new car came with a free year of OnStar. Oh sure, it comes with every new GM car, but I still felt special. After the salesman's demo I even figured I'd renew it when the year was up. Who wouldn't want all the great stuff they offer? Hands-free speaker phone with gee-whiz voice recognition, audio driving directions, a vehicle diagnostic system that emails you a report- it all seemed too good to be true. And surprise, it was. The free plan (which costs subscribers $17 a month) is a total joke.

Hands-free calling is technically available with OnStar's basic service, but you can only use your existing wireless account if Verizon is your provider. Got another carrier? Then you'll have to buy airtime from OnStar at the jaw-dropping price of $14 for thirty minutes, or 47 cents a minute. How do they even get away with that? Nobody charges that much for airtime, not even the clip joint selling prepaid phones around the corner from me. By comparison, I get 1000 minutes with free nights and weekends for $30 on my phone.

Every OnStar ad I've seen shows a driver getting directions from a pleasant disembodied voice. That's a bit of the old bait-and-switch too, since you don't get that service with their basic "Safe & Sound" plan. Of course, you can always upgrade to the "Directions & Connections" plan for the unfathomable fee of $35 a month. But why would you, when you can save that money for six months and buy a GPS navigation unit that blows their service out of the water?

Since phone service and driving directions don't come with the plan, remote door unlocking and roadside assistance are the only services available to me. But my car has anti-lockout features and I can call AAA myself, thanks. Evidently the basic service is targeted at folks who can't figure out those newfangled cellular phones or keep track of their keys. That's right, OnStar is for your grandma.

Once I saw how little benefit it offered I never bothered to activate the service. Then OnStar Magazine showed up in my mailbox, brimming with such useful articles as "Press the Button to Activate Your Service," "Here's What You Get When You Start Using OnStar," "Activating Your Service Is As Easy As 1-2-3," and "Why Don't You Just Press the Goddamned Button Already?" That's right, OnStar actually publishes and distributes a magazine with the sole purpose of urging you to activate a service they gave you for free. I guess they want to get grandma hooked the second she drives that Buick off the lot.

Up to this point I was merely disappointed with OnStar. Then they did something so obnoxious and intrusive that I really hate them now: they spammed my car! I was driving to work minding my own business when suddenly the podcast I was listening to got muted. A chirpy voice issued forth from my car stereo, reminding me yet again of all the awesomeness that is just one button push away. The recording was probably thirty seconds long but felt more like an hour. Is no place, not even the sanctity of my own car, safe from spam anymore? OnStar is evil.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Shiny New Year

My January mix goes out to the highly regarded CherryChapstick.

Cover art

CD art

The tracks
1. Les Baxter - Whatever Lola Wants
2. Hole - Teenage Whore
3. The Kleptones - Crazy Tonight = Strong Teeth
4. Alice Smith - Woodstock
5. Sinead O'Connor - Secret Love
6. Bugz in the Attic - Booty La La
7. Koko Taylor - You Can Have My Husband
8. Nina Simone - The Look of Love (Madison Park Vs Lenny B Remix)
9. 7 Year Bitch - The Scratch
10. Bonobo - Walk In The Sky ft Bajka
11. The Bastard Fairies - We're All Going To Hell
12. Aim - Pier 57
13. The B-52's - Planet Claire
14. Gene Page - Dracula (The Stalkwalk)
15. Indigo Girls - Lay My Head Down
16. Koop - Come To Me ft Yukimi Nagano
17. Annie Lennox - Why (unplugged)
18. Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb & His Orchestra - When I Get Low I Get High
19. TV on the Radio - Wolf Like Me
20. Babes in Toyland - Bruise Violet
21. Alice Russell - Mirror Mirror on The Wolf Tell The Story Right (Bonobo Mix)
22. Yma Sumac - Taki Rari

The artists
Les Baxter was the Detroit-born pianist, composer, arranger and conductor who pioneered the exotica sound and ushered in space age pop. "Whatever Lola Wants" appeared on Ultra Lounge, Vol. 9: Cha-Cha de Amor.

Hole was the alt rock band fronted by the notorious Courtney Love. While Courtney's media presence often loomed larger than Hole's creative output, the band produced three acclaimed albums. "Teenage Whore" is from their 1991 debut Pretty on the Inside.

The Kleptones aka Eric Kleptone is a Brighton, England-based DJ and producer whose skillful mashups are among the best I've heard. "Crazy Tonight = Strong Teeth" is from 24 Hours, one of several albums free to download on his website.

Singer-songwriter Alice Smith is versatile vocalist with a four octave range. Her genre-hopping music spans neosoul, rock, blues, Broadway, funk and jazz. Reviews have compared her to Patti Labelle, Nina Simone, Barbara Streisand, Anita Baker, Fiona Apple and Bette Midler. "Woodstock" appears on her 2006 debut For Lovers, Dreamers & Me.

Sinead O'Connor is the Dublin-born singer-songwriter with a hauntingly beautiful voice and a talent for controversy. "Secret Love" appeared on her 1992 album Am I Not Your Girl.

Bugz in the Attic are a UK collective of DJs and producers who pioneered the broken beat sound. "Booty La La" appears on their 2006 album Back in the Doghouse.

Koko Taylor, "Queen of the Blues", began singing in Chicago blues clubs of the 1950s. Discovered by blues legend Willie Dixon in the 1960s, she went on to a long and influential career. She has won 25 W.C. Handy Awards, more than any other artist. "You Can Have My Husband" appeared on her 1978 album The Earthshaker.

Nina Simone, the "High Priestess of Soul", was a singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger and composer who often confronted civil rights issues with her music. A great lyricist also known for her skillful interpretation of others' songs, her repertoire spanned soul, pop, gospel, jazz, blues, Broadway and folk music. "The Look of Love [Madison Park vs. Larry B Remix]" is from the 2006 compilation Nina Simone Remixed & Reimagined.

Though they always rejected the label, 7 Year Bitch are frequently identified with the riot grrrl movement, an explosion of punk influenced feminist bands that started in early 1990s Olympia, Washington. "The Scratch" appeared on their 1994 release Viva Zapata!

Bonobo is Simon Green, British producer and DJ known for his downtempo compositions. "Walk In The Sky", featuring vocals by Bajka, is from his 2006 release Days to Come.

The Bastard Fairies are an indie electronic band fronted by filmmaker, artist and singer Yellow Thunder Woman. They came to my attention through a widely circulated viral video. "We're All Going To Hell" appears on their album Memento Mori, a free download.

Aim is a British DJ and instrumental hip-hop producer Andy Turner. "Pier 57" is a dreamy, sun-dappled track but with spoken word samples hinting at the origin of its title: "in 2004 the Republican Party held their annual convention in Manhattan, NYC. For the weekend the city was under virtual martial law as the police and military fused and hundreds of peaceful protesters were literally herded up and held in an old abandoned warehouse full of oil and asbestos, some for over 48 hours with absolutely no charge. The warehouse was on New York's Pier 57." You can find the track on his 2006 album Flight 602.

"The first band to glorify pop culture with an almost Warholian sense of purpose, The B-52’s purveyed their absurd B-movie style and off-kilter sound celebrating the weirdness lurking just beneath the surface of Americana" (official bio). The new wave band features the vocals of frequently bouffant-bewigged singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson and the spoken word stylings of Fred Schneider. Planet Claire appeared on theit self-titled 1979 debut.

Gene Page's arrangements have graced hits by a pantheon of artists: The Righteous Brothers, The Mamas & Papas, Barry White, Johnny Mathis, Natalie Cole, The Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Shalamar, Barbara Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Anita Baker, Elton John. "Blacula (The Stalkwalk)" is from Page's Blacula soundtrack.

I was a big fan of Atlanta, GA, folk rock duo Indigo Girls for the first five albums. Some of their later releases were stale and samey, but lately they've made a return to form. "Lay My Head Down On You" is from the 2006 album Despite Our Differences.

Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson are Koop, Swedish purveyors of sublime electronic jazz. "Come to Me", featuring the heavenly vocals of Yukimi Nagano, appears on their 2006 release Koop Islands.

Scottish singer Annie Lennox was one half of Eurythmics, the synthpop duo who scored a long string of hits in the 1980s. Since they disbanded she has enjoyed an enduring solo career. "Why" is from her 1992 MTV Unplugged special.

"Dubbed 'The First Lady of Song,' Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century." (official bio). Chick Webb was a drummer and bandleader whose flamboyant style and consummate showmanship brought him much success during the big band and swing era of the 1920s and 30s. "When I Get Low I Get High" is from the 2002 compilation Dope and Glory.

"TV on the Radio is a New York City avant-garde indie-rock band formed in 2001 whose music spans genres as diverse as free jazz, a cappella/doo-wop, trip-hop and electro" (via Wikipedia). "Wolf Like Me" appeared on their acclaimed 2006 album Return to Cookie Mountain.

Another band from the riot grrrl movement, Babes in Toyland formed in 1987 Minneapolis. Lead singer Kat Bjelland popularized the kinderwhore look. "Bruise Violet", from 1992's Fontanelle, is alleged to be an attack on Courtney Love.

I've been listening a lot to Alice Russell, the UK singer and songwriter whose style encompasses R&B, blues, jazz, gospel, and funk. Her soulful music manages to sound current and retro at the same time. "Mirror Mirror on The Wolf Tell The Story Right (Bonobo Mix)" is from her 2006 release Under the Munka Moon II.

I'm a longtime fan of Yma Sumac. The Peruvian singer is possibly the greatest lounge and exotica vocalist of the 1950s. She brought her compelling vocal gymnastics and a unique South American flavor to the genre. "Taki Rari" appears on her 1954 record Mambo!

Cover and CD art feature Baby New Year from the 1976 Rankin/Bass special Rudolph's Shiny New Year.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Alice Coltrane

Instrumentalist and composer Alice Coltrane died on January 12, 2007 at age 69. Coltrane studied classical music and started her career as a jazz pianist in her native Detroit. She went on to become one of the few harpists in the history of jazz. A strong interest in Indian music and Eastern spirituality informed her meditative compositions as well as her personal life. She was the widow of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane.

Beginning in 1968, Coltrane recorded eleven albums in a decade, then took an extended sabbatical to focus on spiritual pursuits. After a 26 year absence she returned to recording in 2004 with the acclaimed Translinear Light. During her hiatus she founded the Vedantic Center commune and established the Sai Anantam Ashram, over which she presided until her death.

Her first four albums were my chief introduction to jazz and remain some of the most treasured music in my collection. She will be missed.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Should I start watching All My Children?

If I am missing tranny breakdowns like this, the answer is most certainly yes.

Last one out turn off the lights

Michigan tops list of states that people are leaving.