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The first picture on the Wikipedia page of Britney Spears is of her standing in the middle of two rings, garbed as a circus ringleader and toting a whip. The picture fills me with bitter laughter. Not so much at the (inadvertent?) admission that she belongs in a circus, which is true, but that she thinks she leads that circus, which is very far from the truth.

Now, nobody really believes this, but she said this about the creation of Circus:

“I’m writing every day, right here at the piano in this living room… This is my best work ever.”

Get a load of the actual authors of her songs:

Nikesha Briscoe, Rafael Akinyemi, Lukasz Gottwald, Claude Kelly, Benjamin Levin, Shelly Peiken, Arnthor Birgisson, Wayne Hector, Nathaniel Hills, James Washington, Luke Boyd, Marcella Araica, Max Martin, Shellback, Savan Kotecha, Alexander Kronlund, Christian Karlsson, Pontus Winnberg, Henrik Jonback, Kasia Livingston, Stacy Barthe, Henry Walter, Adrien Gough, Peter-John Kerr, Nicole Morier, Harvey Mason, Jr., Rob Knox, James Fauntleroy II, Frankie Storm, Ronnie Jackson, Guy Sigsworth, and finally, Britney Spears, herself, who co-authors three of the twelve tracks.

And the producer list:

Teresa LaBarbera Whites and Larry Rudolph (executive), Bloodshy & Avant, Benny Blanco, The Clutch, Nate “Danja” Hills, Dr. Luke, Fernando Garibay, Greg Kurstin, Guy Sigsworth, Jim Beanz, Claude Kelly, Let’s Go To War, Max Martin, Nicole Morier, The Outsyders, Harvey Mason, Jr., and Rob Knox

All told, there are fifty people responsible for the production and songwriting of Spears’ new album.

If her record company has that many people on the hook for songwriting and production, just think of how many more they employ in promoting, touring, roadying, sound-checking, rehearsing, lip-syncing, video-recording, photographing and otherwise selling this garbage.

Then it hit me: This album is run off an assembly line like a Model-T or a Mauser (Excuse the dramatic comparisons—they were the first to enter my mind.). Just look at all those nameless names. They are factory workers, utterly detached from the product at the end of the line. And most of them are good and honest people, just like you or I. 

And there Britney is, she the painted figurehead hanging from the bowsprit of a giant trireme, and there are a legion of galley slaves propelling her forward. But she does not steer the ship. She is too busy running from paparazzi, running from her rabid fans, running from the sex symbol she became ten years ago only to race back to it when she feels too ugly.

This is common practice for the Big 5, and has been. None of my retching will change that.

The record industry now sweats over peer-to-peer sharing. However, illegal downloading is not the only technology that has caused a contusion in their bloated cartel.

In recent years, digital recording has become relatively affordable, and there are now countless musicians making amazing, cheap albums on laptops in their basements. Anymore, a musician does not need to drum up the massive amount of capital it once required to make a professional sounding album. 

Beyond production, the Internet itself provides countless outlets for independent artists to sell, promote, and gig themselves. And these artists do it by themselves.

The record companies must surely see the big picture here.

This change is not an upheaval of the norm. It is a return to a stasis—albeit one rebuilt with this new-fangled technology—in which the artist has control over the art and bears the responsibility for its success or failure. But more importantly, the artist bears the definition of their success or failure. If an artist’s music never makes it past his front porch and the ears of those who gather on it—and he’s cool with that—then that is success, right? My friends and neighbors always appreciated my music the most.

Ketch Secor, of Old Crow Medicine Show, had a profound insight:

“It’s such a pivotal part of American music making, the sound that was created in the 1920s, before the radios, before bluegrass, before record sales were nearly as important–back in the old days when people thought that maybe they shouldn’t make records, like making records was a way that other bands would steal their live shows. That’s the way a lot of guys felt about it back then. They were very mistrusting of the A & R thing.”

Consider Robert Johnson or Charley Patton. Doubtless, they had their qualms over recording and plagiarism. And rightly so—but neither knew the influence they would have. Nobody exploited them. They exploited themselves—although, I don’t think you can call something someone enjoys exploitation. Not like being locked in a room with the instructions, here, go write seven surf-rock songs or ten teenie-bopper tunes by Friday.

What a diarrhea of bad music the record industry has created with their defined roles and focus groups! I say, let them sink billions of dollars into suing and prosecuting downloaders. Let them own songs that other people wrote. Let them keep screwing the few decent artists they have left. They have turned music-making into a peopled machine, which, like the American car industry, will become bankrupt and irrelevant. 

Time for another puncture in the equilibrium. Now everybody—

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I have a tradition (or something of that ilk) of buying my father a new hockey stick every Christmas. For the past two years, I have splurged on one-piece, composite sticks, each running me well over $100. Nevertheless, my father broke each within the year. One on a shot, and one on a face-off. So it comes as no surprise that my Christmas dray has no hockey stick on it for Dad.

Before I continue, allow me to mention a few biographical details: The curtain was already closing on my competitive career when these composite sticks became popular. During that career, I used both wood and aluminum sticks with wooden blades. I did try a composite once. But like sex with condoms, I never liked the feel much, and my overall satisfaction was diminished. Moreover, the stick was so light that there was no way in pluperfect hell I was going to hurt anyone with it: Which, since I was a paltry 5’6″ (and so I remain), hurting my six-foot foes was an integral part of my game. So I threw that new-fangled composite over my shoulder and kept my wood sticks. 

Back to shopping… Yesterday, I went to a hockey store for my yearly purchase. There were only 15 wooden sticks there (I counted), and about 500 composites. Now, my father did like the composites I bought him, despite their short lifespan. Consequently, I figured he’d want another one. I found one with the kind of curve and lie that my father likes. Plus, it was a Henrik Zetterberg model, and my father is his biggest fan. (Of course, whether Zetterberg actually uses this model remains lost in the fog of corporate travesty.) Unfortunately, the price on this model was a whopping $220. 

Most of the sticks I used to buy always had “Fabrique au Canada (Made in Canada)” painted onto the stick. However, as I scrutinized the Zetterberg stick, I saw “Made in China” printed on the sticker (Notice that it was on the sticker, which you discard, as opposed to the stick itself.). Furthermore, many of the other composites had “Made in Mexico” on their tags. Suddenly, I was filled with a deep rage, which has yet to subside. 

Although neither culture has done much else to embrace the sport, I don’t mean to disparage the good Mexicans and Chinese who made these overpriced twigs. My anger has nothing to do with where the things are made. So don’t even start with the jingoism rap.

“So what’s with the unchecked aggression, here?” you ask. It is because, whenever I bought a stick with “Fabrique au Canada” on it, I assumed some Canadian was making a decent wage because of it. I would spend $20 on a piece of lumber and fiberglass but never lose any sleep over buying it.

Not so anymore. Anymore, I get the sense I’m paying a buttload of money to an increasingly consolidated group of CEOs and investors. Get a load of this:

Around twelve years ago, the shoe giant, Nike, bought out the hockey pad company, Bauer, and dispensed with the hockey brand, Cooper (Nike has recently sold Bauer for about half what they paid for it. For more, go here.) I remember my adolescent teammates and I drooled over Nike equipment for a few months, until sweat and mould replaced the sexiness of our new pads. In our needy little minds, though, it had to be Nike. 

In 2004, another shoe giant, Reebok, purchased hockey brands CCM (Canadian Cycle and Motor), Jofa, and Koho. Since they have taken over, it seems these companies can’t go a year without overhauling their skate, pad and stick designs. Granted, there have been some new technologies, but certainly not enough to justify such efforts. More likely, all that redesigning is simply a ploy to sell more products. 

So what justifies such high prices? One might argue that the cost of the graphite and Kevlar for these one-piece sticks drives up the cost of making them. I suppose it is true that graphite and Kevlar are more costly than ash and fiberglass. However, some graphite sticks go for as low as $60. Moreover, I am reminded that pencils use graphite, not lead. And pencils are some of the cheapest items around.

Or perhaps it is the Kevlar that makes these sticks expensive. I have no clue how much it costs to make Kevlar. When my hockey stick will have to block bullets, I can only guess, but Kevlar regularly fails to keep the stick together when it comes to shooting a puck.   

Maybe the initial investment in the new machinery and stick factories keeps the prices ridiculous. (I’m trying to be fair here, aren’t I?) But after ten years of production, I find it hard to believe that these corporations are still paying for these machines. The reality is is that the head honchos of Nike, Reebok, and Easton are laughing all the way to their Swiss banks. 

So before I haul off and fly to a stick factory in Mexico just to pay someone $30 to run a stick off the line for me, so he can take home double what he makes in a week, here’s the point, kids: Hockey is already an expensive sport to play, what with the cost of ice time and liability concerns (read: a bunch of other crap that you won’t understand until you’re older). Just know that the price to play is by far the biggest barrier for kids around the world, and the increasing price of equipment can only hurt the game. And then remember that all the money and technology in the world will never make you as good as Sidney Crosby or Henrik Zetterberg. 

 

And now for something completely different….

The stick that gave me the wickedest wrist shot of my life

Sher-Wood PMP Paul Coffey pattern (and thank God they still make it! And in Canada, too.)—I used it for three years until it fell apart. I remember I liked it when the wood came unglued from the fiberglass. The blade had more give then, and I could control the puck better.

The stick that gave me the hardest slap shot of my life:

Easton T-Flex 95 Aluminum with a wooden Steve Yzerman blade—When I was fourteen-years-old, I clocked an 81 mph slap shot with that stick. An honorary “most vicious slash” award also goes to this stick. I always got my two minutes worth with the T-Flex, may it rest in peace.

 

 

Philip walked into the supermarket with purpose. The sliding glass door shuffled aside and the AC felt good on his face.

This would have to be a swift operation, he thought.

Out of the corner of his eye, he took note of the self-checkouts. There were four, two respectively book ending the normal, (wo)manned aisles in between. Only one was in use, which was good, because on this trip he’d hoped to avoid any human contact. In an effort to avoid eye contact, he stared at the floor, chasing the white reflections of fluorescent lights that stayed ahead of him despite his quickening of pace.

He arrived at the pharmacy section in the back. He was seeking the contraceptive section and hoping to find it without the usual canvassing required to find stuff in such a big and crowded place. Up and down he went, but found no condoms. It hadn’t occurred to Philip that perhaps normal people maybe sometimes bought condoms, and that a pharmacist was potentially adequately equipped to deal with a question as strange and morally dubious as the one Philip now had in his mind. 

Where are the fucking condoms?

His palms began to sweat. He rubbed them on his jeans and kept looking. After three passes down each aisle that might have condoms, he finally spotted them. 

The condom section was stationed just below the glass windows of the pharmacy room, the foundations of which, for some ungodly reason, stood two feet taller than the supermarket floor. This gave the pharmacist a superior footing, and it would be difficult to avoid his notice. He suspected the pharmacist was back there, somewhere, lurking. But for now he couldn’t see him.

The difficulties were manifold. Aside from overcoming his own Evangelical hang ups, he had to buy more than one kind. He was supposed to be sampling a variety for his business venture that he and his partner, Charles Andouille, had wrought the previous month. That venture was a condom company. At the moment, the company was more of an idea than a company. They were calling it Custom Condoms, which was a working title, but a good working title, and likely the name they would settle on.

The genesis for the product came from Charles, who was a tattoo enthusiast. What would set these condoms apart, Charles asserted, would be the pictures inked into them. After all, he had said, every man wants a tattoo on his cock, but is too afraid—and for good reason—to get one there. 

The two of them had brainstormed a number of picture ideas for the tattoos. Naturally, phallic symbols came to mind first: Missiles, guns, lightning, snakes, etc. As their thinking loosened, they began to envision officially licensed products from the NFL, NBA, MLB, Nascar, as well as the Army, Navy, Marines, etc. 

At this point, Philip was mainly concerned with the functionality of the condoms. Hence, the trip to the supermarket. He needed an accurate sampling of what was out there, so they could avoid the pitfalls and reproduce the advantages, which other condoms presented. Consequently, he needed to get as many different kinds as possible. And then try them out.

Philip looked warily at the contraceptive section. Trojan, Durex, Lifestyles—those would all be sweet Scrabble scores, he thought. The pharmacist appeared in the window shortly, then disappeared again. With that, Philip dove onto his belly and began to pull himself along the cold smooth floor with his elbows. He ratcheted forward until he reached the bottom of the rack, then he pulled himself up and sat on his haunches, examining the boxes. 

There were ultra sensitive, ultra thin, ultra extended pleasure, ultra for her, ultra for him, but ultra too vague for him to know what was truly inside. Some boxes had the shape of the condom on the back, which was helpful. Some were simply straight and cylindrical. Others were more torpedo-ish. And still another ballooned at the head like a microphone. He found one box that looked good and pretty much what he was after. It was a multi-pleasure pak, which contained six different kinds of condoms. He looked forward to trying them out. 

He winced at one of included varieties. It was studded all around and this worried him. It worried him because he didn’t like his chances of putting it on wrong like maybe inside out, thus encasing his cock in a sort of latex iron maiden. He’d just have to give these to Charles, then. Or maybe suck it up and throw them out outright.

While Charles mainly focused on the art, Philip tried to find ways to improve the whole condom experience, which at best had a tenuously acceptable relationship with his life. In the works was the 

RIPCORD TECHNOLOGY

which issued from his concern concerning the tearing of the condoms in the eager paroxysms of pre-coital arousal. In the seconds between the end of foreplay and the beginning of penetration, he often worried that, in the time it took him to break open the wrapper and to roll the thing onto his cock, he would have foregone much of her arousal and interest and would have to work all the harder to regain their sexual momentum. Needless to say, speed was at a premium. The ripcord was supposed to solve this crisis. It would be attached to the top of the wrapper such as on a pack of gum, and with a quick swipe, the entire top would be ripped off leaving the exposed condom unscathed. 

Additionally, the two were coming up with pick up lines in droves to put on the back of each wrapper. (i.e. If I were Peter Pan, you’d be my happy thought, etc.) The typical and lawful warning that condoms do not adequately protect you from STDs would appear on the margins around the pick up lines. Though neither had sold the idea to themselves, they had also thought of including a wet nap of sorts with each condom to make clean up a little easier, but they couldn’t think of a chemical mild enough to sufficiently clean their junk. So, so much for complimentary wet naps. 

Philip had his condoms picked out. There were three boxes in total. He flopped back onto his belly and started to slither away. When he was safely far away from the pharmacy window, he popped up. A woman from the next aisle over had a coronary. 

Where did you come from, she asked. 

Oh I was just… ah… Wait, he thought. Why am I justifying myself to this woman? So he just kept moving.

At the check out, all the self-serve check out aisles were taken at the nearest end. He was loath to get behind anyone there, since his ludicrous load of condoms would be quite visible to any and all judging eyes that should fall on him. He walked slowly down the checkout lanes. He had to hold the boxes just so, so they wouldn’t drop, because he’d arranged them in such a way that it didn’t look like he was trying to shoplift something, but so that the items he was purchasing were obscured. With great difficulty, he made it to the other side. There was one station left. Thank Christ, he said.

He waved the first box in front of the infrared reader. It didn’t do anything. He waved again. No dice. He twisted it, turned it, inspected it for a bar code, found it, scanned it—and still nothing. He dragged it closer. Still nothing. He slammed the box onto the Plexiglas guard, and the machine squawked at him.

At length, an attendant noticed his trials and approached him. 

This thing won’t work, Philip announced before the assistant could reach him. 

Just a sec, said the assistant, who turned and walked away, presumably to contact a manager.

I can help you over here, came a voice from another aisle.

Fuck, he thought. Okay.

The girl at the register started swiping the boxes. A bit ambitious, aren’t we, she said.

Uh…

She smiled a little. $18.06.

Philip fished his wallet from his back pocket and scanned his credit card. 

You’re quite the ladies’ man, huh?

Oh… no, not really. That is, I don’t sleep around.

Well you’re having sex, I mean, ob-vi.

Ob-vi? I have a girlfriend, and we do it, if that’s what you’re driving at. Philip didn’t want to rehash the Custom Condom business plan at the moment. 

You know, she should really be on birth control if y’all need this many condoms

I uh… I know, but… she can’t uh…she doesn’t…her body doesn’t… birth control doesn’t sit right with her, okay

Okay, she snapped. 

He tore the receipt from her hand, ripcord style, and walked away with less purpose than when he’d arrived. 

At Charles and Philip’s house, or, West Olson Booty Control, as they liked to call it, Charles had drawn up forty or so tattoos to put on condoms. Charles had also talked to a representative of a local chemical company, called Dao Chemical. (That was Zen and this is Dao, hoho.) The amount of funding estimated to kick off the project was astronomical. They had had no idea how much it would cost, but the estimate was well into six figures. 

Well too bad Eugene, Philip said. He slumped into his worn recliner. Any news about how feasible the latex color fusion would work?

There’s good news on that front, Charles replied. 

Yeah?

Yeah, I talked to a chemical engineer over there, and, apparently, they have just the process for it. This guy said it should work, though he didn’t know for sure, because he mainly deals with sarans and plastic and not latex. But he said the principal would be the same. Basically.

Cool. 

Anyway, I’ll have to talk to some potential donors, get a more detailed business plan drawn up, set up a new bank account. 

Charles stared at Philip.

What.

I can’t believe I let you set up that account is all. 

Why?

Hugh G. Rection? Was that the best name you could come up with?

You said give out a pseudonym.

I said give out a pseudonym, so it wouldn’t attract attention to us. Do you really think no one will notice Hugh G. Rection on all the checks we write? 

Well, we are a condom company. I thought making people think of dicks was a good thing, like, a fucking business venture or something. 

Nobody will take us seriously.

Oh come on!

Nope, we’re changing it. It’s going to be hard enough getting this thing up and…

That’s what she said.