Music that lasts

I was recently having a discussion about Zeitgeist. No, not the concept of a spirit of the age or spirit of the time, I mean the 2007 album from the (not) Smashing Pumpkins. I’ve been a massive fan of the Smashing Pumpkins’ music since about 1994 (wow, 20 years!) but have to say that Zeitgeist was the last of their albums I bought and I don’t listen to it, Ava Adore (1998), nor Machina (2000). Essentially, I’m no longer a fan of the Smashing Pumpkins, I’m a fan of their early work only.

What amazes me is you can listen to Gish (1991), Siamese Dream (1993), Mellon Collie (1995), even their b-sides album Pieces Iscariot (1994), and they still hold up really well. With the exception of the song Untitled (from their retrospective Rotten Apples, 2001) and maybe Tarantula (from Zeitgeist), the Smashing Pumpkins haven’t released a song or album that compares to any of the material on those early albums. With the more recent material the songs sound unfinished. When old b-sides sound better than your new a-sides, you really have to question what you’re doing.

But this isn’t just about the Smashing Pumpkins, name a Rolling Stones song released in the last 30 years (i.e. everything post Dirty Work from 1983). Can’t, can you!? They’ve released 5 studio albums and countless – well you can count them, but who cares to – live and collection albums in that time. Fans everywhere dread this announcement at a Rolling Stones concert, “And here’s a song from our new album.”

There are a few factors at play here: the idea of talent and inspiration meeting, the idea that even great artists can’t continue at that elite level indefinitely, and the idea that some art is transitory whilst some is timeless. I’ll leave the first two points for another day, the latter point gives me an opportunity to insult pop music.

Some art, music, TV, movies, books, etc, rise through the charts, become hugely popular, and dominate the media. Then a few years later everyone is embarrassed to talk about those artists and art, digging a deep pit of denial to throw those pieces of crap where they will never be found again. I’ve discussed this before in my article on Good versus Popular, suggesting that popular music/art/things aren’t necessarily good and that time and perspective sort the wheat out from the chaff. Some of the music we enjoy is just because it is played everywhere we go. Some music just filled a hole in the age bracket or life journey, such as Limp Bizkit for all the angry teens, or Placebo with their dark depressing (teen) angst music. A decade on and you’d battle to find anyone who would admit to having bought a Limp Bizkit album, and when I recently relistened to those albums I wondered how I ever listened to that junk.

So what music (or art) lasts? Is it immediately obvious? What lasts isn’t easy to define, because I would never have picked Yellow Submarine to last in the same way that Get Back has. A kid’s song versus a satire of attitudes to immigration in the UK. Would we even listen to Yellow Submarine now if it hadn’t been a Beatles song or bland and inoffensive enough be played to us as kids in primary school? I digress. I think the answer to what will last is often, but not always, immediately obvious. And what lasts is rarely categorised by the prefix* pop.

Take for example everyone’s current objects of pop music derision: Justin Bieber (or Miley Cyrus, whichever you prefer to hate more). Bieber’s music is popular, he’s famous as a result, and I don’t think anyone would argue that his music will be forgotten in 5 years time and laughed at in 10, much like The Spice Girls. Remember them? Me neither. We** already know his music won’t last. And how about an example of something that will stand the test of time…. Wow, this is the part where I admit I’m a metal fan and haven’t listened to ‘commercial’ music in over a decade. I’d say Daft Punk’s most recent work will last, but they have been around for over a decade now, so hard to call them a new artist.

But I will give you another prediction, Pearl Jam will be my generation’s Rolling Stones. They will be still touring long after anyone has realised they still record new albums. And people will go to see them live because of those first few albums that everyone loved and still loves.

Essentially I think that lasting comes down to quality. I’m not talking about the recording studio, production values, or hair gel and dance routines. I’m talking about the quality that arises from talent and inspiration meeting. Bob Dylan’s songs had terrible production and his voice sounds like someone gargling gravel, whilst strangling a cat as their foot is fed into a wood chipper. Yet he had talent and inspiration, subsequently capturing the zeitgeist and lasting (see what I did there). But that music/art has to find a fanbase, whether immediately, or growing it over time as Led Zeppelin did. Now the only question remains: which is better, to last or to grab the headlines for 15 minutes?***

* Yeah, I know, not actually a prefix, more of a noun or adjective dependant upon the context.
** Having not ever heard any of Justin Bieber’s music and only accidentally heard part of a Miley Cyrus song at the gym, I can’t actually judge how good or bad their music is and how long it will last. I’m basing my judgement upon what has happened with previous pop stars.
*** The answer is easy: to last. If everyone forgets your 15 minutes did you even have those 15 minutes?

Can probiotics improve my intestinal health?

Yeah, you know that whenever a title/headline asks a question you can almost guarantee the answer is no. In this case the question is also an interesting way of asking about having the blocked up innards of a red faced, bowl gripping, battleship bomber. The most talked about probiotic is Yakult and its patented strain of “good” bacteria. I wonder if “bad” bacteria have a three day growth and shifty eyes?

In terms of the probiotic Yakult, which has “6.5 billion healthy bacteria in every serve,” there was a 2010 review conducted by the European Food Safety Authority. This was a separate study called to support those made on intestinal health claims (which have been covered by Johan already).

The EFSA panel concluded that a cause and effect relationship had not been established between the consumption of the Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota and maintenance of the upper respiratory tract defence against pathogens by maintaining immune defences. This shouldn’t be that surprising considering that 6.5 billion bacteria is 0.0065% of the 100 trillion or so bacteria in the intestines.

The food constituent, Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota, which is the subject of the health claim, is sufficiently characterised. The Panel considers that maintenance of the upper respiratory tract defence against pathogens by maintaining immune defences is a beneficial physiological effect. The applicant identified a total of 12 references as being pertinent to the health claim. These included nine human intervention trials and three animal studies. In weighing the evidence, the Panel took into account that there was no human study from which conclusions could be drawn for an effect of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota consumption on upper respiratory tract infections, that one human study did not support an effect of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota consumption on the immune response to influenza vaccination, and that there was a lack of evidence for an effect of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota consumption on the immune system that could relate to the defence of the upper respiratory tract against pathogens.

Yakult is supposedly backed by a signficant body of science. The number of scientific papers is certainly large, however, most of them are related to in vitro and in vivo experiments, with some human clinical trials done on cohorts (e.g. 123). The trials also tended to use much larger daily consumptions of bacteria, in the order of 40–100 billions of probiotic L. casei Shirota (sorry, links are now behind a paywall in the UK), far above the single bottle concentration of approximately 6.5 billion.

An example of the studies performed shows that the claims are borderline, with both placebo and Yakult treated constipation groups showing improvements (improved constipation 56% vs. 89%, p=0.003) in the second week, or the claims are based on small sample sizes (n=20). This shows why the EFSA concluded as they did.

So, save your money and wait until there is either some conclusive science or you run out of vegetables. In the meantime, this article is of interest on this topic.

Update: The Lancet recently published a paper on antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and Clostridium difficile diarrhoea which showed that multistrain preparations of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria did nothing. This is another example of how the previous smaller studies that have shown benefits are being overturned by more conclusive studies. I could go into the statistical and methodological reasons for this, or you could all thank me for not doing so. Thanks to Ross from Skeptically Challenged for the paper.

Wristbands for causes

There is definitely nothing more profound and world changing than buying a wristband for a good cause. What better way to cure world hunger than to slap a piece of plastic on your wrist?

Here are a couple of worthy cause wristbands available now:

Make Deadshits History Wristband

Harden The Fuck Up Wristband

Now of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the wonderful wristbands that cure ailments and enhance performance. Chief amongst these products is of course Placebo. The Placebo bands are available right now:

Nonspecific ailments the placebo effect and confirmation bias may assist with are not limited to:

  • Headache relief
  • Lower back pain
  • Cramping
  • Muscle soreness
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Symptoms of the common cold

Wearing the Placebo Band may also seem to improve:

  • Strength
  • Balance
  • Power
  • Confidence
  • Mental alertness
  • Memory
  • Sense of general well being
  • Attractiveness
  • Wit and charisma