The proposed merger of AOL and media conglomerate Time Warner made it through the Federal Trade Commission this past week, but the fat lady can't squeak a peep before the blessing of their union is granted by the Federal Communications Commission. Such a merger will add fuel injection to the changing of the traditional record-industry business models for manufacturing and distributing copyrighted material. The tumultuous Gestalt shift of MP3s, hackers, and crackers is evolving rather quickly into something quite remote from the organic shopping experience of visiting the local record store, breaking open the cellophane, turning on, and tuning out. The record labels are scrambling to shove the cat back in the bag, but there's no turning back. The dominance of the first generation of popular music fans to discover that tunes are a click away, rather than a block away, is so conceptually boundless that it's breathtaking - and what side of the fence you're on will tell you if you feel exhilarated or like many fingers are crushing your larynx. What power would this merger wield, with a network of high-speed cable modems already in place and the key to the vaults of music and film properties of Warner Bros.? "You've got mail - and a great offer to hear more about the new R.E.M. album!" As the future calls for customers to pay for the privilege of downloading tunes in a monthly payment to each major record label you might want to subscribe to, with unlimited access to the label's properties, this proposed marriage has both the sizzle and the steak. ... While on my shaky soapbox podium, let me share with you a fantastic quote by singer/songwriter/producer T-Bone Burnett taken from a recent L.A. Times interview. If you're consistently head-shaken by the boy-band/Lolita landscape, this consideration of the state of the music business 2000 A.D. is a hoot-for-thought: "We live in an age of music for people who don't like music. The record industry discovered some time ago that there aren't that many people who actually like music. For a lot of people, music's annoying, or at the very least they don't need it. They discovered if they could sell music to a lot of those people, they could sell a lot more records." ... Another music merger takes place this week across the Atlantic, where the weekly tabloid magazine Melody Maker will fold after 74 years with its December 18 issue. The publication's ever-popular musician's classifieds section will be absorbed by its competitor NME (New Music Express), the last man standing in the weekly U.K. music-magazine market that thrived for eons serving up three fan-boy choices (with the now defunct Sounds). ... Three hot soundtracks are slated for release next month with motion-picture star power and intriguing musical promises. Due January 9 is 1500 Records' 15 Minutes set, featuring a cover of David Bowie's classic "Fame" performed by God Lives Underwater, and other new music from DJ David Holmes, Maxim of Prodigy, French electronica collective Rinocerose, Breakbeat Era, and Gus Gus. The film was written and directed by John Herzfeld (2 Days In the Valley) and stars Robert De Niro and Edward Burns. The TVT label issues Snatch (up for grabs in late January), the new crime comedy from director Guy Ritchie. Like the record for his previous film, Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels, this new movie soundtrack promises lots of one-liner dialogue mixed throughout the tracks - a nifty collection with Madonna, Massive Attack, The Specials, The Strangers, 10cc, The Brothers Johnson, Oasis, Klint, and more. The Chapter III Records label is releasing the Invisible Circus soundtrack featuring two new Yo La Tengo tracks written for the film, alongside tracks by Lee "Scratch" Perry & the Upsetters, Nick Laird-Clowes of The Dream Academy, and Petra Hayden of That Dog. ... Doubtful that they'll ever run out of suitors to buy them drinks, The Donnas can now belly up to the bars they've been playing. Their new Turn 21 album, due next month from the Lookout Records label, features the band's full-fem-force garage rock cover of Judas Priest's "Living After Midnight." ... Another tome of pop culture can be added to your winter reading stack - Jacques & Flusster Publishing's memories of impresario Sid Bernstein, titled Not Just the Beatles. A plucky yet debonair gentleman, he sealed his spot in rock history when he brought the Beatles to perform for the first time in America in February of 1964. As Bernstein's youthful work ethic and a knack for promotion led him into the high-stakes win-a-few, lose-a-few world of concert production and negotiation, he never lost his unique kind manner - and oftentimes his reputation as a man of honor opened wonderful doors of opportunity. Can you imagine contracting the Beatles to their debut American concert almost a year in advance, and having the show fall perfectly in between two Ed Sullivan appearances? Or how about his next Beatles concert at Shea Stadium, when without any advertising or PR he took in more than $304,000 in three duffel bags full of mailed-in ticket requests? These stories and more can be found alongside his dealings with artists like The Rolling Stones, Tony Bennett, Janis Joplin, The Rascals, Bay City Rollers, and James Brown. Neat stuff for big dreamers - highly recommended.

Television Alert:
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno welcomes the Blue Man Group on Christmas day; The Late Show with David Letterman hosts Sade tonight; and Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher gets into the minds of Karen "Yam Jam" Finley on Wednesday overnight, Tiffany on Thursday overnight, and Aaron Neville on Friday overnight.

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