Fly me to the moon: Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket men — or women — will launch next year


SpaceX announced Monday it hopes to send two tourists on an expedition around the moon in 2018.

CEO Elon Musk said via a telephone news conference two private individuals approached the aerospace and space transport manufacturer about sending them on a weeklong excursion. The trip will send the passengers around the moon’s orbit and propel them back to Earth to land, but won’t land on the moon.  The voyaging vessel, SpaceX’s Dragon 2, will be remote controlled, but the tourists will undergo emergency situation training.

Musk did not disclose who the two individuals are per their request or how much they will be paying, but he did describe them as people he personally knows.

Space tourism has become a realistic and expensive ticket since the turn of the millennium. Seven tourists have paid at least $20 million each to fly to the International Space Station on Russian Soyuz rockets since 2001. The 239,000-mile trip to the moon would be the first time any astronaut has ventured beyond low-Earth orbit since NASA’s final Apollo mission in 1972.

NASA is working in collaboration with SpaceX to make such endeavors possible again. NASA is developing the rocket and capsule SpaceX will use for the tour. NASA has financed much of SpaceX’s spacecraft development since 2006 and the agency has collaborated with Musk’s company on several commercial cargo missions. The two entities struck a deal in 2012 for SpaceX to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, but that project is currently delayed.

NASA announced last month it wants to send trained astronauts along on the first tour to act as a trial run. Musk has stated NASA is a priority and that he will comply if they want to send experienced individuals on their first flight to the moon.

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Think about it: What does presidential mean, anyway?


The adjective “presidential” was used to describe President Donald Trump’s Tuesday night speech to Congress. By giving Trump credit for reading off a script — and not venturing into his non-sequiturs about his electoral victory or the evil media — the media set a pretty low bar.

Reading, in and of itself, isn’t presidential. Anyone can read something off a script. 

Trump made no real changes to his policy proposals that would warrant him getting praise from the media, let alone Democrats. He’s still going to propose “extreme vetting” of immigrants and block entry from multiple majority-Muslim nations. His administration is still focused on rounding up undocumented immigrants, seemingly indiscriminately.

Just look at who Trump invited to his speech: guests specifically chosen because they were family members of people whose deaths the White House blamed on undocumented immigrants.

His speech may have represented a move-length act of decorum, but that only exists if you analyze it outside of context. For example, earlier in the day, Trump called the leader of the opposition party “incompetent.”

As for Trump’s emotional moment when he talked about fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, then pointed to his wife in the gallery? The president previously said that the raid in Yemen that left Owens dead was the fault of former President Barack Obama, under whose presidency the raid was formulated. He also blamed the generals, saying, “They lost Ryan.”

Even the Oscars is a topic Trump focused on this week. He said that the historic Oscars flub was caused by people who were focused so much on him.

So before saying today that Trump is changing his ways, let’s see what he does tomorrow first.

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Donald Trump’s “blame the liberals” talk belongs to a long right-wing tradition of white victimology and conspiracy theory


Donald Trump; Vandalized tombstones are seen at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery, February 26, 2017, in Philadelphia, PA (Credit: Getty/Tom Pennington/Dominick Reuter)

Donald Trump is a professional white victimologist. The examples are legion. Trump never takes responsibility for his actions and appears to believe in numerous fictions: News media outlets are conspiring against him, Barack Obama is trying to sabotage his presidency, the military and not the commander in chief is to blame for the recent botched raid that killed a Navy commando, the women who accused Trump of sexual assault are all lying, millions of “illegal votes” were cast against him, and the tens of millions of people who have protested his regime are all paid operatives.

Donald Trump also refuses to take responsibility for the nationwide wave of hate crimes against Muslims, Jews and people of color that his rhetoric and agenda have inspired.

Trump’s voters are also white victimologists. Despite the fact that white Americans have more (unearned) political, social and economic power than members of any other group in the country, public opinion and other research has shown that Trump’s white voters believe they are “oppressed” and that nonwhites receive more opportunities. (Trump’s voters and Republicans en masse also believe that men, not women, are victims of sexism in America.) White victimology is also present in the deranged belief that racism against white people is as big a problem, if not bigger, than racism against African-Americans and other people of color. White conservatives are also more likely to hold such beliefs than other members of the American public.

In all, deploying white victimology is one of Donald Trump’s favorite tactics, and it has a long association with the conservative movement. Trump wielded white victimology to great effect in order to win the Electoral College vote. He shows no sign of abandoning the politics of white victimology while president.

As reported by the New York Daily News on Tuesday, when Trump discussed the terrorist threats and vandalism that have recently targeted the Jewish community, he seemed to channel a conspiracy theory that the master Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels would have approved of:

President Trump appeared to suggest Tuesday that the wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the U.S. could be coming from within the Jewish community itself, according to a Pennsylvania state lawmaker present for the comments.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who was part of a group of state attorneys general meeting with Trump at the White House Tuesday, relayed Trump’s comments about the bomb threats to Buzzfeed News, explaining that the commander-in-chief seemed to indicate he felt some of the threats were being made from the inside, as part of a potential effort “to make others look bad.”

White supremacists hear echoes in Donald Trump’s suggestion that Jews and others are staging these hate crimes, and have celebrated online how their “glorious leader” is now following their lead.

This is not the first time that Donald Trump has parroted anti-Semitic themes. He did so repeatedly during last year’s presidential election. Given that some of Trump’s most senior advisers have links to white nationalism, it would seem that “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is now required reading in the White House. (Some of Trump’s close advisers are also Jewish, including Stephen Miller and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, which admittedly clouds the picture.)

Likewise, Trump’s belief that “liberals” and “Democrats” are conspiring against him (and the Republican Party) is part of a broader right-wing obsession with “false flag operations” and related conspiracy theories. There are many ugly examples of this that can be found among conservatives, going back decades. In 1963, William F. Buckley’s magazine, the National Review, suggested that the Birmingham church bombing that killed four black girls was most likely the work of a “crazed negro.”

White victimology also distorts reality by creating a fantasy whereby it is not conservatives who are the “real racists” but rather liberals and progressives. This trope is common across the right-wing news entertainment echo chamber. It also has standard talking points, which are easily disproved. Consider the following examples:

1. The Ku Klux Klan is a Democratic organization.

It’s true that the Ku Klux Klan was founded by Southern Democrats in the aftermath of the Civil War. That Jim Crow, segregationist wing of the Democratic Party has now been fully absorbed by the Republicans. Moreover, since the civil rights movement, Klan activity in much of the South is best understood as part of white backlash against the Democratic Party and in support of the Republican Party. In its current form, the Klan is a right-wing terrorist organization that supports Republican candidates, including Donald Trump.

2. Black Lives Matter is a “hate group,” much like the Klan.

Black Lives Matter is a civil rights organization and activist movement that seeks to end police brutality against African-Americans and other people. Black Lives Matter also supports public policies that respect and nurture the full humanity and dignity of all people, regardless of their skin color. Black Lives Matter does not endorse violence. It has not hurt or killed anyone. By comparison, the Ku Klux Klan and related white right-wing terrorist organizations, according to estimates, have killed at least 50,000 African-Americans from the end of the Civil War through the decline of the Klan as a national force in the latter part of the 20th century.

3. “Progressives” have always been racist against people of color.

This claim is ahistorical. White supremacy has been a fixture of American society from before the founding of the republic through to the present. The “progressive” reform movement of the late-19th and early-20th centuries was multifaceted and complex. Like other political movements, it reflected the tensions and social norms of its era. As such, many if not most of its reform organizations were racially segregated. That did not stop African-Americans and other people of color from working toward many of the same goals (women’s rights, temperance, public health, public education and improved public hygiene).

Many Northern white progressives were either indifferent to or supported Jim and Jane Crow, biological racism and eugenics. Most Southern white progressives and other reformers explicitly embraced and supported white supremacy. But to draw a clear line from the progressive movement of the late-19th and early-20th century to the post-civil rights era is intellectually dishonest and historically inaccurate. On questions of the color line, racial progress, civil rights and freedom, conservatives have more in common with the racist and white supremacist social order of the past than do forward-thinking progressives and liberals who fought to tear down that system.

4. Blacks and other “minorities” are taking jobs and other opportunities away from whites through programs such as affirmative action.

Affirmative action programs have never denied white people jobs or other opportunities. Affirmative action programs — to the degree they still exist — have simply encouraged employers to broaden their job recruitment and hiring practices to include people who aren’t white men. Nonwhites continue to face considerable racial discrimination in hiring and promotions. Economists and other social scientists have repeatedly shown that it is white women, not people of color, who benefit the most from affirmative action programs.

On the college and university level, it is the children of alumni as well as donors who receive the most preferential treatment in admissions. This is a de facto advantage for white people over members of other groups. Whites are the largest beneficiaries of scholarships and similar programs as well. This also reproduces inequality because of the high levels of racial and economical segregation in America’s public and private schools.

Donald Trump and the broader right-wing movement’s white victimology and conspiracy-theory narratives have so much traction because conservatives have been trained and conditioned by their media and other leaders to believe them. This is historian and political scientist Richard Hofstadter’s much-referenced “paranoid style” in action:

But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.

Important changes may also be traced to the effects of the mass media. The villains of the modern right are much more vivid than those of their paranoid predecessors, much better known to the public; the literature of the paranoid style is by the same token richer and more circumstantial in personal description and personal invective.

The impact of this dynamic is revealed in the way American conservatives exist in an alternate social and political world that operates outside empirical reality on a broad range of issues from science to the economy. Contemporary conservatism — especially as manifest in the ascendancy of Trump’s fascist and authoritarian movement — is a type of religion (Hofstadter’s “fundamentalist mind”) that runs on faith, a belief that cannot be proved by rational, empirical or scientific means.

This dynamic is enabled by right-wing media outlets that intentionally and quite effectively circulate disinformation and lies to viewers. With the acceptance of Fox News as a “mainstream” source of news information (media scholars have shown its viewers are among the least informed and that watching the network makes people less knowledgeable) and with Trump’s access to conspiracy-minded websites such as Infowars and Breitbart, the president now controls his own unofficial state media. Trump will use this propaganda machine to disseminate his lies and further undermine the mainstream news media.

Ultimately, Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s embrace of white victimology and conspiracy theories is but one more front in a long war waged against the truth and empirical reality.

As has been repeatedly shown by social scientists, conservatives and Republicans are more likely than liberals and Democrats to be racist, hold negative attitudes toward blacks and other people of color and exhibit what is known as “old-fashioned” racism and white supremacist views. Conservatism and racism have effectively become one and the same thing in America. Trump’s election puts an exclamation point on that.

Scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois once observed that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” It would seem that he is still right, well into the next century — just not in a way that many of us expected.

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Kanye West releases a 17-minute song that invites reinterpretation of his past eight months

Kanye West

Kanye West (Credit: AP/Walik Goshorn)

It’s hard to believe that prior to yesterday Kanye West had gone eight months without releasing new music. West has been a constant presence in the news: voicing support for Donald Trump at a concert, dying his hair platinum blond, being admitted into a hospital‘s psychiatric wing, being photographed with Donald Trump, dying his hair rainbow sherbert color and backpedaling his support for Donald Trump. (All planets revolve around the Sun.) In that time, West also released creative work: recuts of “The Life of Pablo,” a music video for his “Life of Pablo” song “Fade” and two fashion lines.

It was at the premiere of the fashion line Yeezy Season 5 last month that West debuted “Bed Yeezy Season 5,” a sparse 17-minute song about seduction. None of the vocals on the song come from West. Instead, the singing is done by The-Dream, who released an original version of the song (titled “Bed”) with J. Holiday in 2007.

The two songs are separated by 10 years but sonically they sound like they’re from two different geological eras, as if a 2007 Honda Accord provided the groundwork for a 2017 self-driving Tesla. The minimal production, highlighted by thunderous synth notes and echoing Auto-Tune, is very much of the same style as “Yeezus” and “Life of Pablo.”     

Here, though, industro-future aesthetics aren’t the backdrop for West to paint; they are the picture. The song is technically about sex, but like the clothes the song was originally paired with, “Bed Yeezy Season 5” is about style — a style that is dark, affluent and sad. The-Dream’s singing is erotic (“Love you til your eyes roll back/ Trying to put you to bed bed bed”), but the sexuality feels pixelated, devoid of intimacy. The song is looped, and with time it becomes ambient, any bit of pleasure becoming more elusive.  

West is by nature contradictory: simultaneously brilliant and ignorant, compulsively self-aware and impishly impulsive. As a result, it’s always tough to tell whether he’s being read too critically or whether we’re missing some underlying meaning. It’s tempting to listen to “Bed Yeezy Season 5” and conclude that West’s roller-coaster past eight months have been about aesthetics: Could the hair, the dalliance with Trump and the photo op be a Bret Easton Ellis-style performance piece? Is this his dystopic period?

Maybe. Or maybe he’s not commenting on the moment, but simply reacting to modern stimuli. As West continues to distill his art, there’s more room to read into it. And what’s there is both excitingly different and frustratingly so.

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Never meet your heroes: Casey Affleck accepts his Oscar while an episode of “Girls” addresses sexual harassment


(Credit: HBO/Craig Blankenhorn)

I don’t always agree with Lena Dunham, but Sunday’s episode of “Girls” had me wanting to high-five the writer, director and actress. Dunham confronts the growing complacency in our culture that allows influential men to harass women in the episode called “American Bitch,” titled after a rumored almost title of a Philip Roth novel.

Sunday’s Academy Awards show was a disappointing example of the current state of our union, and not only if you happen to be a “La La Land” producer. Casey Affleck won the Oscar for best actor for his work in “Manchester by the Sea.” The film, which is rich in pathos and deep, brooding Massachusetts accents, is as good as any of the other contenders, but Affleck’s victory stirred up the same feelings I had on election night. Once again a powerful white man accused of sexual assault was being rewarded and celebrated.

Affleck has been accused of sexually terrorizing women on the set of his 2010 mockumentary “I’m Still Here.” The claims about his behavior range from insisting that a female co-worker share his hotel room to referring to women as “cows” as well as acting in retaliation when his advances were rejected. Affleck isn’t special in his behavior. Although he now joins the ranks of other Oscar-winning actors, he runs the risk of being lumped into the same category of men like President Donald Trump and Mel Gibson who are known for their misogynistic and degrading statements about, and treatment of women. Affleck’s acceptance speech pretty much coincided with Dunham’s “American Bitch” episode, which created an interesting juxtaposition.

The episode centers on Dunham’s character, Hannah, visiting the home of an influential author whose sexual assault allegations she published online. Hannah reports that the writer harassed female fans during a book tour. The scene is staged perfectly: an immaculate apartment that unapologetically flaunts the man’s achievements: PEN/Faulkner awards, honorary degrees, hand-signed first editions from Philip Roth. The suggestion is clear; it’s a nice life.

The author, Chuck Palmer, played by actor Matthew Rhys, nearly charms Hannah — uncharacteristically discerning and firm — into believing he was taken advantage of by a college-aged female fan. He reads an eloquent short story about the night in question, that is rich in description of the nubile young woman. What is he — a successful, intelligent, mildly attractive man who lost his virginity at an older age — to do in the presence of an attractive admirer?

Simple: You don’t take advantage of your position as a powerful man.

Later Hannah almost relents and believes Chuck. I mean, he is just so earnest and charming. And then he is so sweet with his daughter!

Instances like this in life make you want to believe in the good in a person. They cause you to wonder if maybe you were wrong and just jumping to conclusions. Perhaps you interpreted wrong. It makes you doubt yourself.

Dunham boldly reaffirms Hannah’s (and most women’s) instincts, as Hannah and Palmer lie benignly on a bed. And then he attempts to have Hannah touch his exposed penis. Insert eye roll.

She leaves, confused, embarrassed and outraged as Rihanna’s “Desperado” plays while a flock of blurred, faceless and seemingly beautiful young women enter the building, the presumption being that they’re about to meet with the disgraced-but-still celebrated scholar.

This episode is eye-roll inducing because the scenes are just so . . . common. Dunham brilliantly showcases situations so many women have found themselves in before. I felt uneasy watching the scene in which Palmer reads Hannah his short story. She marvels at it: his eloquence, her interpretation and her luck that he has chosen her to share this intimate piece of himself with. I once found myself in a similar situation and only years later did I realize that it was not unique. It’s an old dog’s game to impress a starry-eyed admirer with a well-received trick.

Dunham succeeds in highlighting sexual assault and harassment by men in positions of power and influence over young women. Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando conspired to assault actress Maria Schneider to create the rape scene in “Last Tango in Paris,” which indicates a deep-seated complacency in the entertainment industry and our culture for excusing sexual assault by celebrating professional achievement.

“American Bitch” sheds light on the disparity that exists between powerful male figures and female would-be protégés to a discouraging degree. Of course there are groupies and starfuckers out there eager to turn a hero into a trophy, but there’s also a fair number of young women who aspire to become influential authors, actors and politicians and look up to male examples.

Hannah comments on her desire to be the inspiration for a man like Roth to write such a book as “American Bitch,” which is a return to the myopic and self-centered Hannah we’ve grown to love to hate. It’s not cool or fun to have a relationship with a man reduced to the plot of a book or the concept of an album. Our relationships to men should be valued as more than fodder for them to tell their story. Often women are slut shamed or called power hungry when they share their versions of the story. The examples suggest a very dismal future for these dynamics to change.

Funny, it’s common to hear adages that entreat you to never meet your heroes. No one warns you that it’s because they may sexually assault you.

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WATCH: Musician Will Boyajian turns to subway busking to help the homeless


Musician and occasional subway busker Will Boyajian had one small New Year’s resolution: Help every homeless person who asked him for money in New York City. He quickly became overwhelmed, however, as there were a lot more people asking for help than he could provide.

So instead, Boyajian now runs Hopeful Cases, a simple project that combines subway busking with directing help to those who need it. Boyajian stopped by Salon’s studios to talk to Amanda Marcotte about it.

“So basically I go into the subway and I play ’50s rock ‘n’ roll songs on the platform. People donate money. I leave my case open. I have a sign that says if you’re homeless or in need, you can take as much as you want,” Boyajian explained. “People donate and throughout the day, people will come up and take money out. I try to end with zero dollars at the end of the day.”

“We all thought, myself included, my friends who knew about this, when we started this project, that the money would go all at once, that it would fill up and someone would come take it all,” he continued.

Instead, he found, people tend to take only as much as they need, mindful to leave some for others who may also reach out for help.

Boyajian noted that while New Yorkers think of themselves as cynics, they also like to step up when help is required.

“Ever see a New Yorker drop a wallet? The whole subway’s like, ‘I’ve got it,’” he joked. With Hopeful Cases, Boyajian is directing that urge to save the day towards those who need the help the most.

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POLL: Should Tom Brady boycott the Patriots’ White House visit this spring?

Tom Brady

FILE – In this Jan. 22, 2015, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks at a news conference in Foxborough, Mass. Brady did not attend a 2015 celebration at the White House because of what the he insisted was a “family commitment” but others speculated was because of some unflattering comments a spokesman for President Barack Obama made about the Deflategate scandal. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) (Credit: Associated Press)

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WATCH: FUBU Founder Daymond John on the “Shark Tank” contestants that he hates most


There are two types of people on ABC’s “Shark Tank” that investor Daymond John gets “pissed off at:” the people who are on the show for free advertising and those who are entrepreneurs out of ego.

The founder of FUBU and the new co-working space Blueprint + Co. said that people who have raised millions of dollars and are on the show to get another round of capital are either hemorrhaging money or their business is about to die.

“You just took that space from a hardworking mom and dad who risked everything,” John said during a recent Salon Talk. “They put their cars up, their mortgage, their kids college fund and all they need is $100,000 and a little guidance, and they’re going to make that into a $10 million company.”

The other type of entrepreneur John said he doesn’t have patience for are those who have raised money from their family’s pockets and “couldn’t care less” about the business.

“All they want to do is say ‘I’m famous’ and put their picture on a milk carton,” John said.

He said those are the people who have “gotten grandma to bust open her 401(k)” and their mother to mortgage her house to finance a kid’s startup.

“You’re taking money from the people who care about you,” John said. “It’s just because you egotistically want to say you’re the man or you’re the woman and that’s what you think business is.”

In the end, Daymond said that a “Shark” is not going to take away your business problems.

“If I could take everybody’s problems away, then FUBU would be called Nike, it wouldn’t be called FUBU,” he said. “It would be called Ralph Lauren. It would be called Louis Vuitton.”​


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David Byrne discusses his new documentary “Contemporary Color”: “Whoever decided what culture is, has kind of overlooked this”


(Credit: Peter Cooper)

The 1984 documentary “Stop Making Sense” remains one of the greatest concert films of all time. The Talking Heads’ music was certainly infectious, but so, too, was frontman David Byrne’s movements, along with the spectacle of the band working in concert. Byrne’s 2010 documentary “Ride, Rise, Roar” focused on his solo career and mixed performance scenes with interviews and observational footage.

Now Byrne has co-created another concert film, “Contemporary Color,” directed by Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross. The film presents a daylong noncompetitive event at the Barclays Center, featuring 10 high school color guard teams from across North America performing their routines to live, original music by bands and performers like Lucius, St. Vincent, How to Dress Well, Devonté Hynes, Nelly Furtado, Money Mark and AD-Rock (aka Adam Horovitz), Nico Muhly and Ira Glass, among others.

For folks unfamiliar with what a color guard does, it involves rifles, sabers and flags being tossed and twirled in a giant synchronized spectacle. And it’s hypnotic to watch. “Contemporary Color” offers pure joy for 100 minutes as teens perform their routines with a precision that is truly breathtaking. The film is also quite emotional. It is hard to not be moved by the passion in these youthful faces as they perform.

The Ross brothers capture the energy and excitement though onstage and behind-the-scenes footage that they have woven together seamlessly. Byrne, who helped produce “Contemporary Color” and performs one of the songs in the film, met with Salon to talk about color guards, creating the live performance experience and what he played when he was a teen.

There are two guys from Field of View, one of the color guard teams, who talk about how pumped up they get from [being in a] color guard. The energy from the performances is infectious. What drew you to this art form?

I was drawn to this “sport of the arts” as they call it, completely accidentally. Some team — I’m not even sure what team it was — years ago asked to license an instrumental piece of music that I’d done, a pretty obscure piece of music, too. It was done for a theater piece. I thought OK, it was a high school team, they’ll get it for nothing. I said, “You’ll get it for nothing, but send me a videotape of what you do with it.”

Months go by, and I got not just a videotape of that team, but a DVD of the [color guard] world championships. I sat down and watched it, and as I watched more and more I thought, Whoa! Look at this! Look at what’s going on out there that we don’t know about! Here’s this homegrown, indigenous art form that is incredibly popular all over the country — it fills arenas — parents, children are all deeply immersed and committed to this thing, and we in some of the big cities know nothing about it. And whoever decided what culture is, has kind of overlooked this.

I thought that’s a real shame. This is great stuff going on, really inventive, sometimes a little over the top, sometimes . . . whatever. It deals with issues, it deals with beauty and abstract stuff, and I thought maybe they could have some cool live music.

What were you like when you were a teen? If you weren’t doing color guard, you were performing to some degree? What were you doing?

When I was a teen . . . wow! It sounds like I had it all planned out. [Laughs.] I did art at home, in the basement. I would meticulously draw things, like cartoons, abstract stuff, whatever — and I taught myself to play guitar. When I was in high school, I would sometimes do gigs in the local college coffeehouses.

But you didn’t do any kind of group performance in high school or anything like [being in a] color guard. . . . You were much more solo.

No, I was not in [a] color guard. I was much more solo. There was a band for a little time, but that didn’t last very long. I tried to get on sports teams and didn’t make the cut.

What sports did you play?

My school had really interesting sports. I went out for soccer, as it’s called in the United States. I loved it. I wasn’t any good at it, but I loved it. It was the kind of game where all the players get to participate. They are all moving. I thought that’s a good game. My school did these pilot programs for other games, that were somewhat related to soccer or basketball. One was called scooter hockey.

You haven’t heard of this? Scooter hockey, I have to explain a little bit. It’s played on a diamond-shaped . . . almost like a skateboard, but it had wheels on each corner that kind of turned around — casters — and you put your butt on it and you had to move around the gymnasium floor crab-style.

We played crab soccer . . .

This was a variation of crab soccer, which we also had. You had this little stick and it was a hockey puck. You have never seen so many mashed-up knuckles. [Laughs.]

I’m sure that didn’t help with your guitar!

When you did crab soccer, did you ever do it with a medicine ball, one of those giant balls?


The ball would just completely knock you off your [balance].

Exactly! You would fall over. What did you learn about handling the rifles, sabers and flags? There’s a scene in the film where you’re trying to twirl the rifle. It looks hard. They do it with such precision!

I’m trying. I’m terrible. Me trying to do it is a bit of a joke. It’s much, much harder than people think it is. People think you just twirl the thing and toss it up. And they are kind of impressed. Sometimes the things that impress a naive viewer like myself are not the hardest things to do. The teams know that certain things are really hard to do.

Catching those flags in sync!

Catching the flags in sync is really pretty tough. I’m doing a musical theater project now [“Joan of Arc”], and no surprise, I brought one of the color guard kids in. We have a scene where there’s a coronation and we needed some flag stuff. [I asked,] Can you teach it to some of the [cast]? These guys know how to dance. They are actors, but it is hard.

You have been showcased in performance films from “Stop Making Sense” to “Ride, Rise, Roar.” What can you say about the approach to “Contemporary Color”? It is a mix of interviews and observational footage, performance and concert? How much input did you have in coordinating what the film would look like?

The directors are the Ross brothers, who have done other documentaries. Their modus most of the time is to immerse themselves in a community. By immersing themselves, they find out things that are going on. And if they follow that, sometimes a narrative emerges. And they did a little bit of that here. These guys are going to be good at immersing themselves in what is a tight-knit community — color guard people in different towns and across the nation, where they are all kind of networked together.

They hung it all around this event that we did, where we had 10 contemporary musical artists did live music — original songs — with 10 routines that the teams did in an arena. We pulled it off. That was kind of the centerpiece of what they were documenting, but they keep pulling away and you get backstage, you get the backstory of what the teams are doing, the parents talking about. . . . The parents get very involved in this.

Now, your performance was “I Was Changed” in the film. I’m curious what prompted you to select that song? You emphasize when you introduce it, “America has changed.” I want to talk about how music can create meaning. Your Talking Heads song “Crosseyed and Painless” has taken on a different meaning in the Trump era. “Facts are simple.”

I picked this song, rewrote it a bit; I had it partly written. As we were going through this process — we took a couple of years — I became a little bit familiar with the color guard world, and I realized that as you said, it’s very emotional. These kids are completely emotionally attached to this. They cry in the middle of their routines. I thought, OK, I can’t just do a frivolous song. It’s gotta have some big feelings here.

You get that when the young woman runs across the stage and embraces the guy at the end of the performance. That’s so moving. What can you say about the pairing of the music to the performers? The songs are all very melodic, and yet they are not dance numbers. They have a very ethereal quality to match the style of the performance. Can you talk about pairing the different types of musicians and the music?

Yeah, a little bit. [In introducing] my song “I Was Changed,” I say, “Ladies and gentleman, America has changed” because the day before the show, the gay rights thing went through. A lot of the kids in color guard are discovering who they are sexually, and this is just completely liberating. So LeeAnn [Rossi] in my office and I sat and kind of paired off some of the teams with some of the musical acts thinking this person might be good with this one. You never know. Sometimes we had an inkling of an idea of what a team was going to do, and we thought, Well, that’s going to work. There was one team that was doing a lunatic asylum theme, and we thought, Annie Clark [St. Vincent] is going to love this.

Color guard is a very team-oriented sport. What can you say about solo work versus teamwork? Because I think there that element is going on here. They are all working in sync as a group but they are all also very much individualized — as are the musicians.

Wow. At one point when we were organizing this thing, I thought, Oh, this is going to be crazy; these are high school kids. They are going to be wandering off; it’s going to be hard to keep track of them. They are going to be doing gossip-worthy things here and there or wherever. No, they are so focused on what they are doing. They are so dedicated. They are really all in it together to make the team work. Part of that is because they are competitive. Not in the show we did, but in their regular life. They have regional and national competitions.  

These are the 10 best teams?

Well, we didn’t pick what might be called “the best.” We picked to get a diverse range. Some of them focus on abstract designs. Some of them do issue-oriented routines. So we’ve got to mix that up. They are so dedicated. They give themselves to the shows, as you see in the documentary. They practice at home. Their lives are [organized] around this thing.

It’s great. It shows their commitment and discipline, and it’s very inspiring. You watch them and you just feel for them. It’s that emotional connection. You have reinvented yourself from Talking Heads to Brazilian tropical [music] to opera and other genres, theater. What can you say about your musical growth and development, your career arc?

[Laughs.] I think a little bit by design and a little bit, probably a lot, by luck, I’ve managed to gradually position myself so I had lots of possibilities of things I could do — that I could propose this idea of an event that brings together these high school teams with different artists. In this case, I’m participating in it but I’m kind of more the impresario, even though I don’t go onstage, and go, “And now!”

There’s another guy [Mike Hartsock] who does that, and he has the voice. He does sports stuff.

It means that I can go to institutions and say, “I have this idea.”

And they don’t look at me like I’m crazy and go, “Well who are you to come up with this? You’re a singer-songwriter.” They go, “OK, we’ll look into it.”

There’s a risk in making a film like this or doing a live performance like this. Can you talk about that? I kept waiting for a flag to drop, or something to [happen] to upset the magic of what I was watching. It’s such an impressive spectacle, and it’s all done live!

It’s a lot of planning. The Ross brothers are used to working really kind of small, with a small crew. And for this, they had to cover a big show, as well as go down with a small crew to blend in and hang out with the kids and their families. But to cover the show, they had to quadruple the size of their crew and have cameras everywhere to cover all the stuff and hope that they got it, and that it looked good, not miss some of the key moments. They got it. It’s hugely risky. We put all the pieces together and then it was, Is this going to work — work, as in are people going to enjoy this? Or are they going to be scratching their heads going, “What the hell is this?”

I saw this at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. When I read the description, I thought, I have to see this! I had a colleague who worked in [a] color guard. I never attended, but I knew she did it. It’s such a spectacle. What can you say about the spectacle? Who impressed [you] and what was it about them that was impressive?

The teams are kind of amazing. There are some that are a little bit easier to describe what they are doing. When people hear “color guard,” it’s a little bit of a misnomer, what they refer to it as is “winter guard” because it’s performed outside of the football season and they are doing themed routines. So it’s not stuff with the marching bands, but it’s stuff they do with prerecorded music in their own world. And some of the stuff, I can describe to people and say, “Well, there’s one team that does an Alfred Hitchcock theme, and they do these things with flags and sabers, and tossing sabers. They re-enact the shower scene from ‘Psycho’ and the jungle gym from ‘The Birds’ and a bunch of other stuff. And yes, that’s what they do and it’s really good.” And it’s like, What am I seeing?

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