TIME Music

How a 25-Year-Old Blogger Took Down Apple

Lots of 25-year-olds write blog posts. One would have to imagine the incidence is even more pronounced among 25-year-old creative types, who have not yet been ground into submission by the machinery that makes the American culture industry levitate and whirr. It’s exceedingly rare that one of those blog posts accomplishes anything, except perhaps a phone call from a parent who wants the author to give law school another shot.

It’s exceedingly surprising, when the proper nouns are stripped away, that a 25-year-old’s blog post—on a Sunday—could compel Apple, the world’s most valuable company (by market cap), to change course later that day on an already-announced major consumer product, one that had presumably occasioned dozens of previous meetings and strategy sessions and chin-stroking over the product’s peculiarities.

But this is a story about Taylor Swift, who was already before Sunday the biggest thing going in popular music and is now manifesting herself as something even bigger, a singular commercial powerhouse with the strength and resolve to fight the continued devaluation of recorded music—and to get things done.

The brouhaha began when Apple announced on June 8 that it would launch its own streaming music service, one with the presumable aim of eating into the 60 million users Spotify says it has. Apple Music even announced its price as $9.99 per month, the same figure Spotify charges for its premium subscriptions.

Spotify has, after all, been the subject of intense criticism from artists and labels about its comparatively meager royalty payments. After Swift yanked her music off Spotify in November, her record label told TIME that over the prior 12 months it had been paid less than $500,000 for domestic streaming of Swift’s music, despite her status as one of the service’s most popular artists. (Spotify, for its part, said Swift’s payout for global streaming, including in the U.S., had been $2 million over that period.)

What Swift and others have reasoned is that any music service which offers a free, ad-supported option, as Spotify does, cannot offer them a worthwhile fee for their recordings. (Country singer Rosanne Cash said in September her songs were streamed 600,000 times over an 18-month period—and she received $104.)

Apple’s service has no such option. But its launch would come with three free trial months of service—months during which it would not compensate labels for the music it streamed. Hence Swift’s ire (and others’), and the singer’s Tumblr post, “To Apple, Love Taylor,” on Sunday morning. By nightfall, Eddy Cue, Apple’s media chief, had announced on Twitter that the company would reverse course and pay artists out of its own pocket (deep, incidentally, as the Marianas Trench, which makes you wonder why Apple didn’t think to pay in the first place). Cue told Billboard on Sunday, “When I woke up this morning and saw what Taylor had written, it really solidified that we needed to make a change.” He said he called Swift directly to tell her the news.

There’s a rich tradition of mass-media artists fighting the corporate interests in their workplaces, from the founding of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin’s United Artists in 1919 all the way to Louis CK self-releasing standup specials in recent years. But even in that context Swift’s evangelism stands out. One imagines no other artist could mobilize a fan base like hers—nursed as it has been on free, on-demand content (whether music, video, or, yes, journalism) and accordingly addled—to pressure Apple. But there they were, earning their tribute, in Swift’s victory tweet early Monday morning: “I am elated and relieved. Thank you for your words of support today. They listened to us.”

Swift has benefited from a cultural change—many millennials are more sympathetic to corporations than their predecessors might have been. Her listeners came of age, prevailingly, in the era of free or cheap music—not one in which a teenager might have to shell out two to three weeks’ allowance to buy a CD with one or two worthwhile songs. Today, labels look to music fans like champions for beleaguered artists rather than uncreative conglomerates hellbent on ripping fans off. And her fans look to Apple as an artist-supporting American triumph capable of doing better, rather than, say, an income-tax dodger responsible for Foxconn.

Funny, or not-so-funny, enough, the Apple Music service and several music labels are under investigation by two state attorneys general for anticompetitive practices—namely, are they colluding to crush Spotify? Apple was in similar straits two years ago when a federal judge ruled that it had colluded with book publishers against Amazon to fix e-book prices; the company agreed last year to a $450 million settlement. (For whatever it’s worth: recent history delivers a withering critique of the businesses of content creation and distribution built prior to the great digital disruption. That is, if the only way to restore their past margins is to run afoul of regulators.) Whatever happens, Apple will be fine and Taylor Swift will be fine. The class imperiled, as it has been since the music industry began to shrink, is (as Swift put it) ” the new artist or band … the young songwriter … the producer who works tirelessly,” not to mention the rank-and-file at the record label.

Swift has cast her lot with them, and she has cajoled Apple into taking baby steps toward the same, which is a feat. Swift is not only the sole artist who can make a mass audience pay full freight today for its listening choices; she’s the only one who can make it feel altruistic while doing so. That’s big. She has distinguished herself as a leader, even if she has yet to broaden her aperture beyond areas of self-interest. I, for one, can’t wait until this young blogger finds out what’s happened to the journalism business.

READ MORE: “The Power of Taylor Swift,” TIME’s Nov. 2014 cover story

TIME Books

How To Survive 13,000 Album Reviews

Harper Collins

Robert Christgau, the self-appointed Dean of American Rock Critics, has just published a memoir of his life in the downtown music scene, Going into the City. 'It's very unlikely that there'll ever be anybody like me again,' he says

The whole class of NYU sophomores had arrived on time, ready for discussion with notebooks and pens and perhaps a little less ready for the compulsory quiz on the week’s assigned readings. The professor, a white-haired man with a slight bend at the waist, read a dozen questions aloud, repeating each one to help the panicked. For extra-credit, to aid the beleaguered types, he asked this one:

“Complete the line—and, please, pardon my flow: ‘And all you other cats throwin’ shots at Jigga, you only get half a bar…’ What comes next?” He repeats the question, and his smile broadens. “You know, I’ve always thought that was one of his best couplets.”

If I had a nickel for every time a 72-year-old professor encouraged me to write “f-ck y’all n—-s” on my sheet and turn it in, I’d be dead broke. As anyone would be, for what it’s worth, if he or she set out today to become a rock critic. Survival, though, is a peculiar thing, and Robert Christgau, the self-appointed Dean of American Rock Critics, is a peculiar survivor if ever there were one.

While every American mass-culture critic of recent inauguration wanted to be like Roger Ebert (personal and powerful), most of them wanted to write like Robert Christgau. He’s ferocious, frustrating and funny, miraculously compact while deploying looooong sentences. He worked at the Village Voice, a generation’s hip tipsheet, from 1969 until 2006, primarily as music editor. Some readers would use the back pages of the Voice to get their rocks off; another, smaller group needed only his music section. He’s the critic’s critic.

More than that, he’s the only one of the bunch who originated his discipline who’s still scrapping at it. Lester Bangs and Ellen Willis have passed; Jon Landau became a Springsteen-abetted music-biz macher; Greil Marcus has ascended to a higher plane of professional practice. Which leaves a whole generation of critics in Christgau’s debt, even as they work alongside him. He cleared the way for the appreciation of pop on its sonic merits alone, and for the only-somewhat-tongue-in-cheek (but exceedingly practical) process of slapping a letter grade on Art.

If this were a Christgau review—and there is something to review here, Going into the City, Christgau’s memoir and debut full-length book, published Tuesday—it would have ended 200 words ago with an idiomatic yet scholarly rapture or kiss-off and a letter grade. Like he did for Prince’s Dirty Mind in 1980: “Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home. A.” Or for Talking Heads’ 1980 Remain in Light the same year: “Second side celebrates a young terrorist and recalls John Cale in his spookiest pregeopolitical mode but also begins at the beginning: with ‘Once in a Lifetime,’ the greatest song Byrne will ever write. It’s about the secret of life, which even a woman’s hips can’t encompass. A.” Or for Guns N’ Roses’ G N’ R Lies in 1988: “‘Back when they hit the racks, these posers talked a lot of guff about suicide. I’m still betting they don’t have it in them to jump. E.”

Christgau calls this his Consumer Guide, so named “to razz a counterculture that considered consumption counterrevolutionary and didn’t like grades either.” By his count he’s undertaken nearly this exact mission for between thirteen and fourteen thousand records, with about three thousand others earning judgments that don’t quite meet the “review” threshold. His list of A+ albums covers everything from the Beach Boys to DeBarge; the most recognized artists are Sonny Rollins and the New York Dolls. His top five artists, Christgau once told Salon: Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Chuck Berry, the Beatles and the Dolls. Hard to knock his catholicness.

A little easier to knock the oeuvre, though, given the certitude and bite of each capsule review. Countless online spaces provide scornful analysis of why Christgau stinks; this is what happens if he doesn’t grok your fave act or genre. Or, as Sonic Youth’s “Kill Yr Idols” (later briefly renamed “I Killed Christgau With My Big F-cking D-ck”) put it: “I don’t know why//you wanna impress Christgau//let that sh-t die//and find out the new goal.” The critic responds, broadly, in the memoir’s introduction: “To the eternal ‘Opinions are like assholes—everybody’s got one,’ I just say, ‘Yeah, but not everybody’s got ten thousand of them.’ It distresses me that the wit of this riposte so often fails to impress the asshole I’m talking to.” Least he’s honest.

We were talking, though, about surviving. Christgau’s new memoir belongs to a class of recent good downtown-culture-scene-in-the-60s-and-70s books, written by survivors of the cull that followed. There’s Patti Smith’s Just Kids (won the National Book Award), Ed Sanders’ Fug You, James Wolcott’s Lucking Out, Richard Hell’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, and others still. I say survivors because Smith lives, and so does Hell, but Robert Mapplethorpe and Lou Reed and Hilly Kristal and Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy are all dead. It ain’t easy to miss how these books have piled up as the neighborhoods, characters and scenes they chronicle have vanished.

But Christgau’s still here. He’s an employed rock critic in an era structurally hostile to them (he writes now on Medium’s Cuepoint). “There was always a devil’s bargain in journalism. The advertisers paid your salary, and now the advertisers don’t want us. It’s very unlikely that there’ll ever be anybody like me again,” he says. “There’s no economic basis for it. I feel terrible about what has happened to rock criticism.” He sticks to a CD changer. (“iTunes freezes on me.”) Yet he doesn’t loathe the web; he finds Twitter a good source of links and says music review site Pitchfork, “which was publishing really a lot of bad writing,” has gotten better in recent years. And rapper Azealia Banks sent him into a reverie last year—hard to imagine her without the web.

Christgau bikes a couple times each week from his East Village apartment to his NYU gig, one he’s held since 2005. The class he teaches, at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, is Artists and Audiences, a required one for everyone in the program. It’s music history, with a writing-intensive grafted on. Takes a survivor to keep teaching essay composition to art-school students. As he told the class: “There’s always someone who says I’m imposing my subjective views on writing on their work. Sometimes that’s true. Most of the time it’s not. I was a professional editor for a long time, and a well-regarded one. I had long-running fights with professional writers, and lots of them came to agree with me.” He says, “I’m very proud—even egotistical—about how good I am at what it is I do.” (He also says: “Other teachers will tell you to avoid dashes. Not in this class. They’re great. Use them a lot.”)

The real survival story of his life, though—the one he’s proudest to tell—is the one about his four-decade marriage to author and fellow rock critic Carola Dibbell (pronounced like a Yinzer would “Carol of the Bells,” just with only one bell). “I thought, what do I have to write about? My religious background, my Queens background, my career—although I didn’t hang out with artists like a lot of journalists do. The great saga of my life,” Christgau says, “is romantic love.” He’s big on this, and peeved at the extent to which other memoirists have elided their wives’ influence. That might sound sappy to the hard-hearted rockists out there, but they never cared for Christgau anyway.

In the memoir Christgau’s childhood, college and early postcollege years, plus attendant discursions—there are lots—precede his union with Dibbell. Such is the life of the mind: You’ll learn more here about Crime and Punishment than King Crimson (a band whose first album Christgau called “ersatz sh-t”) and you’ll hear a good deal too about his worldview of contingency, which is original and nicely turned if a little murky. The dramatis personae include Greil Marcus, the pioneering critic and Christgau’s long-term friend; Ellen Willis, the pioneering critic and Christgau’s longish-term lover (she ranks as the smartest person he’s ever known, and then a whole lot else); and his own peccadilloes, dysfunctions and double standards, the confrontation of which leads him to intellectual and emotional development. The Willis sections read especially swell if you shudder but secretly half-smile at the varied indulgences of the ’60s left, as Christgau seems to. Particularly memorable is the moment when our narrator’s pal and mentor, the painter Bob Stanley, tells him the era’s ostensibly enlightened screwing-around actually always stings bad. This after Willis tells Christgau she’ll cheat only on Tuesdays. Writes Christgau, “I swore I’d never try to look cool like that myself, and I never have—not in my private life, and not, I hope, in my public life either.”

And then, enter Dibbell: “[A friend] was sitting beside a pretty, slender brunette with a generous mouth and the kind of hair you want to put your face in. She seemed to be glowing slightly, which you could say was because she was coming down off a sleepless night of mescaline and sex just after she split with her husband, but I say was because for me she just naturally glowed.” Christgau told his NYU class that the best writing is “vigorous, direct and comprehensible.” Oh, this is, and his vigor w/r/t Dibbell recurs—does it ever. They fall in love and wed. The ending, as far as the plot goes, is already spoiled: Dibbell and Christgau are still married, and the daughter, Nina, they adopted from Honduras, is now 29 years old.

Christgau writes relatively frankly about his life considering some of the principals are still around. Dibbell, for one. He makes fewer concessions to discretion than you or I, if not she, might expect. Christgau writes, “I’ve told all with her cooperation or in one or two cases acquiescence. She’s glad this book takes love so seriously, and although she’s less bold than I am, she very much agrees that to shilly-shally about love is a species of lying.” This disclaimer precedes a thorough if not especially graphic account of a phase in their union (spoiler: an affair, hers) that would have severed many, if not most, marriages.

With the bit about his never trying to look cool in mind, I asked Christgau and Dibbell over dinner how it was to research—and by extension relive—those months. Christgau says it was extraordinarily painful; he had nightmares while writing it. But they both say the writing that came from it was good. I agree. Although reading it I felt the same way I did when I sat at their table, dredging up that past transgression: a little thrown.

The unpleasant moments in his writing process, he says, had their pleasant inverses; Christgau says he never wrote more quickly than he did describing a day of passion more than 40 years ago. “I was exalting. I’ve never written that quickly in my life. Did I make a pass at you that night?” Carola smiles but doesn’t answer. “I think I must have.” Some might find this icky. I found it adorable, which to another edgy set would have been icky in its own right. But they’re more in love now, he says, than they’ve ever been before, and they don’t care who knows it. Dibbell has her own upcoming book, The Only Ones, a dystopian debut novel she’s been working on for a decade. It’s out a month after Christgau’s. They edited each other’s work, paging through it in bed.

The three of us headed after dinner to a coffee-and-sweets shop a couple blocks away, where I wanted to continue to ask Christgau about his class and career while Carola wanted to go home, and to bed. He kissed his wife good night. She left, and he started drinking her leftover tea.

As far as love stories go, it’s a little more vanilla than Sid and Nancy—grump away, fatalist Village romantics—but it’s not Nick Sparks. Christgau’s polyhistoric, yeah, but honest, detailed, stirring and sweet. And isn’t that how all the best love songs should be? A-.

TIME

Scott Walker’s High-School Science Teacher: ‘Man Up’

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker participates in a panel discussion at the American Action Forum
Yuri Gripas—Reuters Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker participates in a panel discussion at the American Action Forum in Washington, Jan. 30, 2015.

The Republican presidential hopeful refused to answer a recent question about evolution. The governor's former science teacher tells TIME she isn't pleased

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—a leader in the 2016 Republican presidential sweepstakes—prompted some stateside head-scratching this week when he dodged a British journalist’s question about evolution.

Walker said, “I’m going to punt on that one… That’s a question that a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” He was in London on a trade mission.

Among those who questioned Walker: the chair of his high school science department, Ann Serpe, 73. “Answer the question when they ask you!” Serpe said in an interview. “He could have manned up a bit. That’s what I would tell him.”

Serpe, who taught chemistry and chaired the math and science department at Delavan-Darien High School in Delavan, Wis., before her retirement in 1998, now lives in nearby Elkhorn. She recalls that Walker, her pupil and an advisee in student government, was a bright, committed participant in class. Walker graduated in 1986.

What would Walker have learned in high school? “We taught the theory of evolution, and human evolution, as a prerequisite to understanding biological classification. I went out and looked at my biology textbook just to make sure.”

Serpe says, “I don’t know the dogma of the Baptist church where Scott’s father was the minister, as it concerns evolution. But I do recall that Scott was very accepting of everything in science class. He had a good sense of it.”

Walker’s onetime teacher has seen him a few times since his high-school days. She even attended one of Walker’s fundraisers in Milwaukee. Darwin, though, hasn’t come up in their conversations.

She says she hopes he—”as an intelligent young man”—would understand the importance of scientific thought, that evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive. Walker, who may be two decades removed from Serpe’s classroom, said on Twitter that science still informs his worldview.

TIME deflategate

Patriots Coach Denies Wrongdoing After Internal Deflategate Investigation

New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick Press Conference
Maddie Meyer—Getty Images New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks to the media during a press conference to address the under inflation of footballs used in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 22, 2015 in Foxboro, Mass.

Atmospheric pressure, rubbing process blamed instead

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Saturday that a vigorous preparation process and atmospheric changes—not any tampering by his team—were to blame for the deflated game balls used in the first half of the Patriots’ 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. According to Belichick, preparing the balls for use in a game artificially inflates their pressure, while taking them outdoors causes their pressure to drop.

In a soporific yet surreal press conference Saturday afternoon, Belichick offered what he said will be his final response to the unlikely “deflategate” uproar that has consumed much of the week. Like every press conference conference to result from this scandal, it offered a bonanza for the puerile-humor types out there. But it also had the equivalent of a high-school thermodynamics lesson.

Belichick said that a Patriots investigation this week found that a ball’s pressure might fall by a pound-per-square-inch or more when it leaves the controlled climate of the officials’ locker room and reaches its equilibrium on the field. He declined to comment on the particulars of Sunday’s atmospheric conditions and ball-handling protocol, referring those questions to the NFL.

Belichick said, “I’m embarrassed to talk about all the time I’ve put into this…I’m not a scientist.” He added, “I’m not the Mona Lisa Vito of the football world,” referencing Marisa Tomei’s Oscar-winning turn as an accidental tire forensics expert in 1992’s My Cousin Vinny. So who is? These questions need answers.

TIME discoveries

Bizarre Creatures Found Living Under Half a Mile of Ice

85401982
Getty Images The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica

A National Science Foundation-funded expedition to the Antarctic has unearthed a surprising result: There are fish who live without sunlight under almost half a mile of ice in 28-degree water.

Scientists had never before sampled the Whillans Ice Stream, a river of ice between the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Ross Ice Shelf. The drilling mission, which began on Jan. 8, aimed to better understand climate change by recovering sediment and seawater samples for examination. A small, remotely operated vehicle would peruse the ocean floor and photograph rocks and whatever microbial life might be there. They expected little, because of the water’s extreme distance from sunlight (a major nutrient for underwater environments) and its clarity, which suggests an absence of food sources.

But the vehicle wound up attracting 20 to 30 fish, with other crustaceans as well. Researchers don’t yet know how the ecosystem functions, but they’re hopeful that the fish’s survival under such harsh conditions holds broader clues.

[Scientific American]

TIME NBA

Watch: The Warriors’ Klay Thompson Had the Best Quarter of All Time

Video tells the tale

Until Friday night, the NBA record for most points scored in a period belonged to George “Iceman” Gervin, who dropped 33 for the San Antonio Spurs one night in April ’78 (he had a scoring title to clinch), and to Carmelo Anthony, who scored 33 for the Nuggets against Minnesota in December 2008. Gervin could shoot, and so could—can?—Anthony.

But neither has anything on the league’s reigning assassin, the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson, who managed 37 points in a fiery third quarter against the sad-sack Sacramento Kings. (The Warriors, overall, had 41 points in the quarter.) Thompson went 13-for-13 from the field, including nine-of-nine from three-point range. He tied the record for most field goals in a quarter, and set a new record for most three-pointers. And he added in two free throws for good measure. SB Nation’s Seth Rosenthal has all the oohing and aching you’ll need, and Ray Ratto has the local color but for now behold this: With the win, the Warriors advanced to 35-6, five and a half games better than any comer the stellar West has to offer. They’re 9-1 in their last 10 and 20-1 at home. Good luck trying to catch them.

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