Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Number Of The Beast? £4.7 billion.

I've been busy working on a couple of paid commissions, so you will have to excuse my poor track record of posting recently.

I'm back to you with a small observation about the meltdown in financial markets and the end of private equity's Golden Age.

The thing is, a lot of these deals did get done on emotion rather than cold-eyed business sense. Here's Exhibit A, the purchase of EMI Music by private equity fund manager Guy Hands' Terra Firma.

Hands has always had a following in the press out of proportion to the amount of deals he gets done. It's partly his knack of going after high profile targets (including, for a while, much of the UK's independent public house stock), and partly because he's a friendly, approachable human being.

He used to have a gift for finding sources of revenue, and thus things to raise debt against, that eluded other fund managers, and made him a bunch of money at Nomura, a smallish Japanese bank.

Hands was unusually open about how he did his work, because it frequently involved moving quickly and spotting opportunities rather than the dreary and secretive world of beating better financing terms out of his lenders. He was on pretty good terms with the trade press. I remember a colleague pointing out that Hands was an absolutely huge metal fan, particularly Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

I don't think my colleague was alone in knowing this information, though I can't find any references from a cursory googling. But it certainly didn't come up when he moved to EMI, and I didn't recall it until I heard how much he was struggling to deal with the purchase (ya know, buying a company whose industry is disintegrating). The deal has apparently consumed his attention and is creating a state of panic at Terra Firma HQ.

So why would Hands embark on such a quixotic project? Answer: EMI has released, since 1980 and 2006, pretty much every single Iron Maiden album ever recorded. The Sex Pistols might have hated EMI, but Eddie liked them just fine. The Priest, mind you, were on CBS.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fun With Photoshop For Easily Amused But Frazzled Imbeciles

Posting been rubbish, since I've been entertaining disloyal proposals and trying to moonlight. The following LOLcat, courtesy of the always reliable I Can Has Cheezburger, had me giggling for much of today:

I'd be remiss if I did not draw your attention to the fact that everyone's favourite left-field mp3 blogger, Miguel, will be appearing in person this Wednesday at Heather's on East 13th between Avenue A and Avenue B, in New York's very own East Village (for some very complicated reasons, I think calling it Alphabet City has gone out of fashion). You will get to meet him in person. I might even stop by for a Red Stripe or two as well.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Rare As Tardust?

So today was the first time I participated in one of these new-fangled digital pricing experiments. Well, beyond signing up to eMusic, which I found to be an intriguing yet frustrating beast.

It's been easy for a few years to pay a set amount of money directly to an artist for the pleasure of listening to his music. You can so so at the merch stand at gigs, or through myspace, or you can pay his scally friends for a rip-off version (the Happy Mondays business model).

What we're seeing now are the firs attempts from artists to ask how much we want them to make a living from recorded music, as opposed to gigs and whatnot. So first we had Radiohead asking fans too pay what they felt like for their new album "In Rainbows" (subject to the credit card minimum). Word is they've done OK, if not spectacularly, from the venture. The band is likely to release the stupid thing as a CD anyway.

Which brings me back to my college days. My little friends waited till midnight outside the HMV in Oxford for the release of Radiohead's "Ok computer," and I joined them because that took care of most of my college's alcoholic contingent. I went in at midnight... and bought Spiritualized's "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space" instead. I don't regret it one bit. That album has made me cry a few times, while hearing Karma Police again tends to make me irritable.

I got to repeat the contrary behaviour this week, when K-Pax actor Saul Williams released his new album "Niggy Tardust" either for free (low-res mp3s) or for $5 for the high-def ones. I paid the $5 cos I'm about to drop $10 for a much more fleeting exposure to Weedeater in an hour. Plus, I like Saul Williams' style.

Williams' experiment probably isn't a good way to measure how honest people are. The album's producer is one Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails fame, and quite a few people have been confused enough to give it a listen on that basis. Plus, Williams is a bit of an acquired taste, if rather good live.

The album's reasonably accessible, even including a cover of U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday, and some snippets of Public Enemy and reggae. It might make people go back and pay up for the higher-quality ones, though I suspect that Williams won't entirely get the listeners he expected. Still, it's a worthy, and interesting, listen. We'll have to see whether they end up shopping it to a label anyway.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Good Morning Brooklijnders, I'm Not That Oiled

What do investment banking, talk radio and the Mets' bullpen have in common?



Friday, November 02, 2007

"Fool of a luvie!

Next time, have your own house bulldozed, do us all a favour." The title, of course, is a reference to one of Ian McKellen's lines in Lord of the Rings. Mr McKellen is causing ANOTHER sensation in the Borough of Brooklyn right now, not so much for his FULL BLUNTAL SHAKESPEARISTRY (as recently exhibited in King Lear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as for his ILL-CHOSEN REAL ESTATE PIMPING.

Now there's nothing innately wrong with pimping. We've all got to do what we've got to do to survive, and so long as no-one gets hurt or exploited, it's fine. Hell, even the venerable James Lipton was once a pimp.

But it was rather jarring to be waltzing through the following video, which appeared first on the NY Post's homepage, and be hearing the authoritative voice of England's leading actors, extolling the virtues of all of the new condo developments.

I won't dwell for too long on Mr. McKellen's reference to the Atlantic Yards imbroglio, since it was rushed and fleeting, reminiscent of the way Jeremy Irons delivered some of his sillier lines in Die Hard With A Vengeance. He sounded, to be honest, rather subdued, although the boosters at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership no doubt are pretty pleased with themselves. Marty Markowitz, whose very raison de'etre is to facilitate such inane audio-visual puffery, is probably still curled up and quivering in post-coital delight. Unless he neglected to get his picture taken with Gandalf during McKellen's visit, in which case he's probably weeping and cuddling the comfort blanket Bruce Ratner gave him.

There is, needless to say, among this miasma of mean-spirited attacks on the borough's ruling classes, a point about "Sir" Ian's conduct. We learned from a recent New Yorker profile, that he's an activist with a long-standing commitment to the cause of equality for gays in the United Kingdom. He wouldn't let up on it even when receiving compliments on his acting, as you can tell from his exchange a few years back with Michael Howard. For those of you unfamiliar with Michael Howard, he is the former interior minster of the United Kingdom and the world's second most evil limey Mets fan after yours truly.

It's probably safe to assume that he was blissfully unaware of some of the controversies surrounding the Brooklyn condo boom, and its resultant displacement of the Borough's natives by graceless gentrifiers such as myself. If, though, the man did check in with the community organisations such as ACORN that have rented their names to the city's developers, and got their seal of approval, then my bad. I'd like to think he checked in on where the original residents of the area were going to end up, but I suspect he didn't give it too much thought. And why not? Brooklyn's still known in the UK as a cesspit of poverty and criminal japes, and the Borough that birthed Biggie and Jay-Z. He probably assumes it's in desperate need of a state-directed scrubbing-up.

I remember the expression my grandfather had for British character actors that would crop up with some regularity in the British television dramas of the seventies and eighties. He'd always say that they "eat well," a pretty fair summation of the situation for actors trying to make ends meet between repertory theatre appearances and commercials. You'd forgive them for taking pretty much anything, except for corporate training videos, which were usually the province of fading daytime TV presenters.

So what's so surprising is not so much his ignorance of some of the social issues that underlay the computer graphics, since such is probably the lot of someone flown in to shift tickets at BAM. I can also understand his "motivation", as they sometimes say in the craft of acting. What's good for BAM, and by extension for its sponsors (which include one B. Ratner, Target and some of Brooklyn's other developers), is good for the name on the marquee.

What's got me is the cheesiness of it. Describing the Borough as a college town, not once but twice, was a weird touch. I say this not to denigrate the quality of Brooklyn's institutions of higher learning, just to observe that Brooklyn's blessings transcend such a label. We are not in, thank you very much, Cambridge, Massachusetts. For starters, our indie rock has been much better since at least 1997.

This sort of nasal boosterism puts me in mind of nothing so much as a corporate video, leaving me grateful that I am not hearing him expound upon the importance of reducing stationery-related injuries in the workplace. I'm trying to imagine what sort of favour would need to be called in by lending one's name to this bilge. It's not, according to Rich Calder's spoon-fed exclusive in the Post, money. But what else could a man with a knighthood, a place in two lucrative movie franchises, and a sweet house in London need? There were some very sensible tax bill-related reasons for Dennis Hopper to spend the eighties producing absolutely mental adverts for Japanese consumer goods. Why would McKellen want to lower his game to an even greater extent in NYC?