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Kelis gets down during her performance at Apogee Studios in Santa Monica, Calif. (KCRW)

KCRW Presents: Kelis

by Jason Bentley, KCRW Music Director
Apr 24, 2014 (KCRW-FM)

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Jason Bentley, KCRW Music Director

For her sixth album Food, R&B singer Kelis once again explores a new style with the help of a talented producer. This time, it's TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, who eased her transition from dance diva to a sound more rooted in funk, soul and gospel. On a recent night in Santa Monica, Kelis packed a 12-member soul band onto the small stage at Apogee Studio to showcase her new songs, including "Friday Fish Fry."

Watch KCRW's entire session with Kelis on

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Driving while distracted by your phone is a nationwide problem. A new proposed phone function from Apple could play a big role in helping teens -- and adults -- avoid accidents. (iStockphoto)

Using Technology To Fix The Texting While Driving Problem

by Jessica Glazer
Apr 24, 2014 (KCRW-FM)

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Jessica Glazer

On a Wisconsin street, a woman in a white hoodie stands frozen in place, stepping out of the road and onto the curb, her left hand reaching behind her. As part of a public service announcement, she explains why she's there as string music slowly plays under her voice.

"I had my brother in my hand and all of a sudden my hand was empty," Aurie says as a car drives past. Her little brother, 8 years old at the time of PSA, was left paralyzed after being hit by a car driven by a texting driver.

Movie director Werner Herzog and AT&T made this PSA as an emotional appeal, part of the "It Can Wait" campaign. But emotional appeals only go so far. Where the pleading fades, parents, cities and software companies try to pick up the slack with a technological approach.

A patent from Apple could play a big role in helping teens — and adults — avoid accidents. The proposed feature, which would lock out certain features such as texts and calls, is not the first of its kind. There's DriveAssistT, created in 2008, and TEXTL8R, both developed by Aegis Mobility to block calls and texts. There're other devices that try to make young drivers safer beyond the texting angle, such as by using MyKey, a chip in the car key that you program to limit radio volume or sound a continuous alert if the driver doesn't wear a seatbelt. And Drive Pulse, which tracks the location of the car, as well as things like driving at high speeds or slamming on the breaks.

As NPR's Steve Henn reported last year, there are options:

"Parents today are raising digital natives. Many toddlers are as likely to amuse themselves with a touch screen as a set of blocks. Texts, mobile phones, video games and gadgets have surrounded teens their entire lives.

"Today's parents may not have grown up in a tech-saturated world, but almost every day new technologies come to market that give them more options when it comes to keeping tabs on their kids."

The Apple patent would lock out certain phone functions in one of three ways: by using a motion sensor that knows when the phone is moving at driving speeds; by using a "scenery analyzer" that can tell whether the phone is in a safe place in the car; and a lock-out mechanism that automatically disables things like texting for a period of time.

Attempts by other products to work around looking at a screen have proven more dangerous than texting. In a study by AAA, researcher David Strayer measured the level of distraction of various activities, including listening to the radio (low distraction), to using a speech-to-text device so you are not looking at a screen (high distraction). Replacing texting with this speech-to-text device makes things worse. In an interview with NPR's Melissa Block, Strayer explains.

"People who are talking on a cellphone, either handheld or hands-free, we found that they had a category two level of impairment. [A category five is the highest level of distraction.] That's a significant notch up from what we saw from the undistracted driver.

"But I think one of the things that was a red flag in our study was that when people were starting to send and receive emails with a pure voice-based system — where they can just listen to the messages and then read, reply, delete or whatever, but their hands are on the steering wheel and their eyes are on the road — we found that that was a category three level of impairment."

Even though Apple's patent is not brand new, it could have a greater impact than devices or apps before it, as the Guardian points out:

"As a market leader, Apple could have the power to change the culture behind texting and driving, if it works and is intuitive; that would be a very good step," said Paul Watters, head of motoring policy for the AA [a motoring organization in the U.K.].

"What we find in our research is that there's an addiction here, to texting and using smartphones, it's an addiction that is very hard to break even when in the car — it will take some system to help people break that addiction."

That's what it all comes down to: breaking the addiction. It's hard to ignore the ping of a text message coming in or the pull of work emails piling up when you can check them in seconds. How hard will it be to turn off the new Apple function? How much will it rely on the driver's discipline? Apple could make the difference. In the meantime, emotional appeals and apps that parents use to keep track of their teen drivers will have to do.

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Paul Walker stars in Brick Mansions. (Relativity Media)

A Punching Movie That Packs A Punch For People Who Like Punching

Apr 24, 2014 (KCRW-FM)

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Linda Holmes

It is never not awkward to talk about a film after one of the stars has died. That's perhaps never any more true than it is in the case of Brick Mansions, one of the last films of Paul Walker. Walker died in November of last year after a career that included a lot of movies like this one: silly, hyper action thrillers that often included, as this one does, moments in which everybody in the theater chortled at their insane, cartoonish brutality.

There is no way to make there be anything elegiac about Brick Mansions, or out of the experience of seeing it. To try to make it a celebration of life or to find in it any lessons whatsoever would be absurd and, in its way, disrespectful to the 50 percent serious (plus or minus one percent) way in which it's made.

Brick Mansions is a remake of the 2004 French film Banlieue 13, which you can find for rent in the United States as District B13 — a film for which the dialogue is so relatively insignificant that they serve it up dubbed rather than subtitled. District B13 came from screenwriters Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri, who also wrote Brick Mansions. What's more, the original and this remake share a star: French actor and stunt coordinator David Belle, one of the originators of Parkour, a discipline that sends guys running through the streets, flipping and climbing walls for the benefit of, very often, YouTube.

In this version, Belle plays Lino, the honest man who happens to be the only person left who really cares about Brick Mansions, a Detroit housing project that's been walled off by the police and left to rot. The place is run by Tremaine (RZA), who you know is the ringleader because at the police station, it says "RING LEADER" next to his picture. Lino takes some of Tremaine's drugs and destroys them, Tremaine kidnaps Lino's girlfriend, and Lino teams up with cop Damien — played by Paul Walker — who also wants to bring down Tremaine and save the girl.

Fighting ensues. Running ensues. Jumping ensues. There's a bomb with a prominent readout. Back flips ensue. Bonking each other with props ensues. And at the end, there's an intriguing little twist that's intended to inject a little social commentary.

But mostly, it's a fighting movie. If you've always wondered why more guys don't beat each other with steering wheels, this is your movie! If you've always wondered how you could gruesomely kill someone from inside a cell, this is your movie! If you've always wondered how two smaller guys might defeat a huge guy, this is your movie!

There's a sort of good-natured goofiness to Brick Mansions, and particularly to how ill-equipped Walker really is to keep pace with Belle (who, himself, may be ill-equipped to keep pace with himself from ten years ago). There are a couple of nice references to the fact that Lino's way of navigating Fake Detroit is pretty intimidating, even to a cop who earlier pulls off a rousingly entertaining unauthorized entry into a speeding car.

Parkour is really fun to watch; that's why YouTube likes it. The guys who do it are crazily, anti-gravitationally athletic, and it doesn't need a lot of kinetic editing to look kinetic. It is kinetic already, and in the original District B13, while there's still more editing than it probably needs, the camera does sometimes pause long enough to watch Belle do his thing, which is why the people are there.

Of course, that was 2004. We are now in 2014, and chaos cinema — as a fine video essay by Matthias Stork called it — is dominant. Post-Bourne, post-Michael-Bay, and, yes, post-six Fast-And-Furious movies, action sequences are typically shot with such a manic camera that you can barely keep track of what's happening. When all you're missing out on is cars flipping and regular actors having a fight, it's one thing. But when you're missing out on David Belle doing Parkour, it's hugely frustrating, because — again — it's the best reason to see the movie.

Furthermore, Brick Mansions suffers from another weird tic of action directors and cinematographers, which is that weird, jumpy, sticky effect that I have long recognized but only recently came to know by the apt name "staccato shutter." It's the camera effect Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski used to get a sort of ultra-real look at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, and it's also often associated with Gladiator. It creates stuttery-looking action scenes, and Brick Mansions uses it a lot. Not only that, but they use a more extreme version of it than I can remember seeing in the past, so that you're getting a very disorienting shutter effect combined with the crazy-fast editing that's disorienting already. (You can see it in this clip. Spoiler alert: there's punching.)

And all of this has the effect of dampening the impact of what Belle is bringing to this movie that's legitimately different from what you get in most action movies. It's too bad, though the movie still has some enjoyably over the top sequences and some funny moments between Walker and Belle. It feels like it was fun to make. It feels like, despite being a remake, it was made with some zazz and with, at the least, some desire that it be a hoot to watch. And it is a hoot to watch, even if, to be honest, there's little reason for it to exist.

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Tyler Hicks took this photo of a woman sheltering her children on the floor of a cafe at the Westgate Mall during an attack by militants in Nairobi on Sept. 21, 2013. The woman later contacted Hicks and told him she kept her kids quiet and still by singing along to songs that were playing on the mall loudspeakers. (The New York Times)

Tyler Hicks Tells The Story Behind His Pulitzer-Winning Nairobi Mall Photos

Apr 24, 2014 (Fresh Air / KCRW-FM)

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A woman leaps from a vent at a sushi restaurant in the Westgate Mall where she took refuge during the attacks. Hundreds of injured shoppers and staff streamed out of the Westgate Mall. "I knew immediately that this had to be something more serious than just a robbery," Hicks says. Plainclothes police officers search the mall for gunmen. Hicks was inside the mall for about two hours. Family, friends and colleagues attend the funeral of Ruth Njeri Macharia at Langata Cemetery in Nairobi. Macharia, who worked at the Westgate Mall's Art Cafe, was killed in the attack. Tyler Hicks is a New York Times staff photographer based in Kenya. He has just won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography.

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A few days after winning a Pulitzer Prize for his photos of a 2013 terrorist attack in a Nairobi mall, Tyler Hicks received an email. It was from one of the women he'd photographed that day — sheltering her two young children on the floor of a cafe. She had heard about the Pulitzer and seen her photo on The New York Times website.

"It's very rare to have access to people in chaotic scenes like this," Hicks tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "You take someone's picture, it's this amazing scene and then you never find out what happened to them. ... I called her and we had a Skype video talk and it was incredible. She showed me her children, a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl, and told me the whole story: how they laid there for five hours. ... They could smell the smoke from the gunpowder and she told me how they got through this."

The attack at Westgate Mall was the work of Islamist extremists, killing more than 65 people and injuring many more. Hicks rushed into the mall after the attack began and took pictures as the story unfolded.

Hicks is a photographer for The New York Times and has risked his life many times to cover war and conflict in such places as Kosovo, Chechnya, Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan and Iraq. He first went to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks and has returned every year since. The Pulitzer citation commends his skill and bravery.

Hicks was held captive in Libya for nearly a week, along with three other journalists, including New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid. Less than a year later, Hicks and Shadid sneaked over the Turkish border to cover the civil war in Syria. Later, as they tried to sneak out of Syria, Shadid died of a severe asthma attack, and Hicks, who was in shock, had to figure out how to get Shadid's body back across the border into Turkey.

Interview Highlights

On coincidentally being near the Westgate Mall after the attack began, and deciding to go inside

I didn't just blindly run in. I first believed this to be a robbery gone wrong, and that wouldn't be something I'd normally take risks for — that's not a big, important news event. There are a lot of violent robberies in Kenya and it's something that you just stay away from. When first I approached the mall I could see ... hundreds of people running in terror away from that building, through the parking lot out onto the street — really spilling out onto the street. I knew immediately that this had to be something more serious than just a robbery.

As I got up closer to the mall, I could see ... people coming out, clearly who had been shot. People with blood splattered on their faces being pushed out of this mall by other civilians in shopping carts, literally using shopping carts as gurneys and wheelchairs for people who couldn't walk.

A little bit later, about 45 minutes later, after I had seen that ... some people had been killed, their bodies laying on the front steps of the mall ... it was clear to me that this was something far bigger and serious enough that it warranted the attempt to get inside to see what was happening.

On how he ended up taking the photo of the woman sheltering her children

It's a very exposed vantage point so I didn't spend a lot of time there. But I looked down and saw this incredible scene of a young woman with two children hiding on the floor of a cafe. You could see shell casings all around them from bullets and they were just petrified, they were completely still and ... to me, that photograph really sums up what happened there. Outside of the frame, all around them and on the floor of this mall were bodies, a man next to an ATM ... a woman still holding a shopping bag who had been killed, and they somehow managed to avoid that.

On how the woman kept her kids quiet for five hours throughout the attack

The music that plays in the shopping mall — just kind of this tranquil music — was still playing throughout this whole thing, so amidst the gunfire and all the action that was happening, you had this kind of mall music that played throughout the entire attack. She actually was singing along with those songs to her children to keep them calm and quiet — especially the young boy who she said rarely can sit still for five minutes and she had to keep him calm and quiet for five hours.

On being kidnapped along with his driver and three other journalists in Libya

The thing that I really thought about the most and will for the rest of my life is taking risks that affect other people — that have consequences for other people. In this case, the 21-year-old driver [who was killed], that's on my shoulders forever. And that is a lesson that I hope that will protect myself and the people that I work with for the duration of my career.

And that's what I can take out of that, as small as that is: to know when enough is enough, to know when to leave, to listen to the people around you — local people who know more about the place than you do. If they say it's time to go, then go, because if you stay and something happens to them, that's a horrible, horrible thing that's not reversible. ...

[We were] driven across the Libyan desert in the back of open pickup trucks — bound and blindfolded and beaten — and I actually watched a guy at a checkpoint just come up and closed-fist punch [New York Times photographer] Lynsey Addario in the face. She had pieces of her hair pulled out. We got pretty roughed up on that trip, both physically and emotionally, and it does take a lot out of you. None of us would ever want that to happen again.

On how covering war has affected him

I think in the moment — meaning in that time that you're there, whether it's a week or 10 days or two weeks, whatever it is — you can kind of tuck that aside and continue to do the work. I find that it's more after that you realize how much you're shaken in these things.

I remember not long after [an assignment in Afghanistan] I was back in the states, I was in Connecticut with my sister and we were just going for a run. We were down by the beach in my hometown and there was some work being done on a house and there was a hydraulic nail gun that they were using and it really sounds a lot like incoming gunfire with this thing. As we were running they put a few nails in and I literally almost hit the ground and my sister's reaction was like, "Oh my God, you should look at yourself, man. You totally thought you were just being shot at."

And it's true; you can't deny that that's a natural protective instinct that you gain through these things.

On being with reporter Anthony Shadid when he died from an asthma attack while sneaking across the border between Turkey and Syria

Anthony and I organized a trip to cross into Syria from eastern Turkey and to do that was pretty difficult at the time — having to link up with smugglers, this pretty rough-cut group of people who bring you at night across the border; you have to climb through barbed wire fences, run across fields; some of them are on horseback, they're also bringing guns and ammunition across. It was very surreal to be with them and to be crossing at night like this. ...

He had told me beforehand that he had asthma — he couldn't be around dogs, and these kind of things, but I didn't know a lot about asthma.... [Shadid had had an asthma attack on his first trip across the border and] both Anthony and I were both concerned about the horses and him having another attack. He was more prepared on the way out with antihistamines and inhalers and a [scarf] that he bought there to cover his face. We told the smugglers on the way out that we did not want to have any horses near us — that we would just do everything by foot and within 10 minutes of starting the journey back down the mountain Anthony started to have the same type of reaction that I had seen him have on the way up.

He was still talking, I had my arm around him, helping him walk. There were dogs barking. This is a route that you have to move quickly on, there can be any number of people out there to get you, so the dogs are an alert. ... We walked probably another minute or so and he stopped — there was a boulder on the side of the trail, he put his hands up on the side of the boulder to rest and just collapsed and that was it.

He died there on the trail, not too far from the Turkish border. I performed CPR on him for about a half an hour and it was clear that he was gone. The smugglers who were with us, of course didn't speak English, I don't speak Arabic, so then I lost my ability to communicate. ...

Anthony's wife and his son were in Turkey waiting for him to return from this trip, where he was planning to write, so that was really the saddest thing I've ever had to do in my life was to face his wife and his young boy and explain to them what happened.

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Neil Young in a recording booth, tracking a cover of Bert Jansch's "Needle Of Death." (Courtesy of the artist)

Neil Young Covers Bert Jansch's 'Needle Of Death'

Apr 24, 2014 (KCRW-FM)

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A woman leaps from a vent at a sushi restaurant in the Westgate Mall where she took refuge during the attacks. Hundreds of injured shoppers and staff streamed out of the Westgate Mall. "I knew immediately that this had to be something more serious than just a robbery," Hicks says. Plainclothes police officers search the mall for gunmen. Hicks was inside the mall for about two hours. Family, friends and colleagues attend the funeral of Ruth Njeri Macharia at Langata Cemetery in Nairobi. Macharia, who worked at the Westgate Mall's Art Cafe, was killed in the attack. Tyler Hicks is a New York Times staff photographer based in Kenya. He has just won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography.

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This video shows Neil Young cramped with his guitar in a small space about the size of a phone booth. It's actually a refurbished 1947 "Voice-O-Graph," a sort of self-contained studio that records and presses vinyl records. Guitarist and producer Jack White acquired the booth for his Third Man Records label. All of the songs on Young's new covers album, A Letter Home, were made with the device.

Bert Jansch's "Needle Of Death," originally released on his self-titled album in 1965, was the inspiration for Young's own song "The Needle And The Damage Done," from 1972's Harvest. Other songs on A Letter Home include Bob Dylan's "Girl From The North Country," Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown" and Willie Nelson's "Crazy."

While A Letter Home was originally released on vinyl only, for Record Store Day, a deluxe version, due out May 27, will include a CD and a link to download a digital copy of the album.

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