Music and Popular Culture

Paul McCartney: boy in a band to man on the run…

Tom Doyle’s excellent book on Paul McCartney during the Wings years reveals a Paul most don’t know very well: a conflicted, sometimes lost, boy/man trying to carry on as a musician while also trying to be husband/father and rock star/cultural agitator at the same time – until traumas of very different types made him settle into adulthood and, ultimately, self-acceptance.

Sir Paul McCartney, my favorite Beatle (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Much of what the average rock aficionado knows about the break up of the Beatles comes from either Jann Wenner’s interviews with John Lennon or from casual attention during those years to news reports about the legal hassles the Fabs endured while extricating themselves from their partnership in Apple. Like any break up, personal or professional, (and this was both the severing of an indescribably successful musical collaboration and the splintering of friends who’d been almost inseparable since childhood), the Beatles’ demise was messy and hurtful for all involved.

Tom Doyle’s superb book Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970’s fell into my hands as a birthday present from my beloved sister a few days ago and I dropped my usual reading to devour it, both because I wanted to make sure my sister knew I appreciated her thoughtfulness and because I will read anything written with something approaching competence about The Beatles generally and Paul McCartney specifically. Hell, I even read the incompetent stuff.

This book is as good as any I’ve ever read on these subjects. Kudos to Tom Doyle and to my sister Janis. Continue reading

The National’s enigmatic darkness: Saturday Video Roundup

I was listening Sunday night to The National’s most recent album, Trouble Will Find Me. As I lay there with headphones on and the first song playing, I thought, “I don’t know why I don’t listen to these guys more often.” Minutes later, I remembered: Regret, sadness, and a failure to connect with people permeate The National’s songs. Sometimes we need to be reminded we’re not the only people in the world whom trouble has found. Other times, we don’t need to be reminded. The National often belongs in the “other times” category. Continue reading

Saturday Video Roundup: Wherefore art all the protest songs?

And now for something slightly different

Shadowproof posted Let us never ask where the protest music has gone ever again.

Kevin Gosztola, a Firedoglake alumnus, raises a cultural dilemma and proposes his own solution.

There is a recurring story media organizations like to publish. The story typically asks where all the protest music has gone or something like that. Or, the writers ask, who is this generation’s Bob Dylan?

This perspective has seeped into the consciousness of Americans. One thread on Reddit asked:

With all the racial and class tension in the past year or two, I’m really surprised that there hasn’t been much in the way of protest songs. At least not that I’ve heard. My generation had Rage Against the Machine (whose lyrics seem even more relevant today). What artist is carrying their torch today?

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The night Reg Dwight stopped by

I was sitting in the living room one night watching wrestling on TV when someone knocked at the front door. When I opened it, I didn’t recognize the guy at first. But when he said, “Hello again, Pat,” I realized it was a guy from long ago—a high school classmate, Reggie Dwight.

I hadn’t seen him in decades. It took a couple of seconds for my brain to mesh with the moment. “Hey, Reg!” I said. “Great to see you! It’s been—jeez, how long has it been?”

Reggie stood under the porch light, hanging his head, barely making eye contact. After a pause that verged on awkward, I said, “C’mon in! Sit down. Want a beer?”

He said “no beer,” took a few lethargic steps and sank into an overstuffed recliner near the door. Continue reading

The Arts

Art as production for use turned into art as production for profit

The art world can’t help but be pleased with the efforts of its victims — there’s money to be made, after all. But there are those of us who watch these developments with increasing alarm, wondering if the art world will ever wake up. The saving grace is that art’s machinations generally have little effect on the rest of the globe. That may be the reason that art — especially today’s art — “is the only human activity that does not lead to killing.” Contemporary art has made itself so meaningless that nobody can be bothered to pull the trigger over it. – Alex Melamid

On Kawara (image courtesy Wikimedia)

I am almost finished with Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, but rather than rush through the novel’s ending and write hurriedly about it, I wanted a few days to ponder it since I feel it deserves thoughtful consideration. I’ll write about it in my next essay over the weekend.

That, of course, leaves me with the need to find a topic for this essay. I have two, and after careful consideration (that sound you hear is the coin landing on the table), I’ve decided to write about an interesting piece from Huffington Post that is yet another complaint about the problems facing contemporary art. The piece focuses on visual art, but I think the same is true for literature and music, so much of what the author says applies to art in the broad sense of the term’s usage.

That problem is, perhaps explained by using terms that will set of alarm bells for all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons: “production for use” and “production for profit.”

But first a few words about On Kawara who is sort of a poster child for what the title of this essay is on about….

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CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

A question of what matters: hyperrealism and the literature of detachment….

Complete detachment or complete engagement – as Billy Joel observed, it all depends upon your appetite….

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (image courtesy Goodreads)

I am still making my way, rather too leisurely probably, through Walker Percy’s marvelous novel The Last Gentleman (about which I will have much to say, since I corresponded with Mr. Percy while completing my first book, a novel, The New Southern Gentleman). I’m also awaiting delivery of my copy of about which I’ll write some more once I’ve read it and digested its what promises to be awesomely hyped mediocrity.

That left me casting about for something to write about for this essay, and I found it by stumbling upon an essay in The Nation about the latest trend (counter trend might be another way of viewing it) in literary fiction: novels composed of the musings of completely detached narrators rambling on in some sort of Onionesque version of the literary equivalent of a “nattering nabob of negativitsm” that the vice-crook of the Nixon administration once was on about.

I think this trend says something (interesting? troubling? useful? useless?) about American culture – particularly the culture of creative writing programs and the sorts of literature they produce. It is also important to note why the trend in European literature has been for an almost diametrically opposed trend in litfic from across the Atlantic. Finally, and this is mighty important to remember, as Bullwinkle would say, none of this may be anything but footnotes in the great narrative where The Dude abides and one should know the first rule of Fight Club. Continue reading

What bands do you miss? (It’s a fastidious and precise Saturday Video Roundup, bitches.)

Sometimes bands we love break up. Or someone dies. Or … maybe they just slide from relevance. If you’re like me, there are a lot of acts who fit this description. I miss Space Team Electra so bad it hurts, for instance. REM faded away more or less gracefully, but still I long for 1984.

Here are some bands and solo artists I miss. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments.

First, Lush.

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chris squire

Chris Squire, Prog-Rock demigod…

Chris Squire was not only a founding member of Yes and thus a Prog-Rock demigod – he was also one of the most gifted bassists in the history of rock….

Photo by Greg Holmes.

By now most of you who pay attention to such things are aware that Chris Squire, a founding member of Prog-Rock legends Yes, died last night in Phoenix, AZ, of a rare form of leukemia. He was 67.

Squire was/is primarily known as a “player’s player,” a moniker I think he’d like to be remembered by and one any bass player with chops that regularly entered “how’d he do that?” territory certainly deserves.

Some 18 musicians and singers have been members of Yes since its formation in 1968. Numerous great guitarists, drummers, keyboardists, and vocalists have passed through the band.

They’ve had only one bass player. Continue reading

Lindemann’s “Praise Abort”: Saturday Video Roundup

Oh look, Till Lindemann from Rammstein has a new side project with Peter Tägtgren of Hypocrisy and Pain. What are the critics saying?

Pigs, blood, phlegm and characters right out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting alternatively play in morbid grime or on a virginal white stage. Heavy guitar sounds, dark choirs and driving drum beats surge in the background. The lyrics are laced with hatred: “I hate my life, and I hate you / … / I hate my kids, never thought / That I’d praise abort.”

Yeah, that sounds about right. So for SVR let’s watch the first video, and then celebrate Till’s genius with a couple of the high spots from his work with Rammstein. Strap in, bitches.

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neil-young vs donald-trump

Candidates ought to study copyright law before using artists’ music

Even if they buy licenses and win in court over artists’ objections, they’ll lose in the court of public opinion

neil-young vs donald-trumpby Carole McNall

Welcome to the 2016 season premiere of the popular reality show, “Stop Using My Music in Your Campaign.” This episode features Donald Trump, newly announced (as of June 16) presidential candidate, and Neil Young, crusty rocker and songwriter. The two swapped statements after Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” provided the soundtrack for Trump’s triumphant entry to his announcement event.
(The announcement event can be seen/heard here.)

My immediate reaction when I heard a news item about the announcement (including a bit of “Rockin'”): “This will not end well.” It didn’t. And it didn’t take long. By June 17, Young had issued a lengthy statement. It can be summed up in this paragraph, quoted on rollingstone.com:

“Music is a universal language, so I am glad that so many people with varying beliefs get enjoyment from my music, even if they don’t share my beliefs. But had I been asked to allow my music to be used for a candidate — I would have said no.” (Emphasis mine)

Oops.

One day later, Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told Rolling Stone, “We won’t be using it again … Continue reading

trump

Donald Trump angers Neil Young in latest GOP song appropriation gaffe

trumpThese are probably not the sort of stories that Donald Trump wanted to start off with:

The New York real estate mogul arrived on stage at his campaign kickoff announcement Tuesday as the sounds of Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” blared through the atrium at Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan. . . .

“Donald Trump was not authorized to use ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ in his presidential candidacy announcement,” a statement from Young’s team read. “Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders for President of the United States of America.”

But, then again, The Donald seems to be of the school that believes that any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right. Continue reading

Alan Turing

Turing’s time

Last night we attended the world premiere of Sentences, Nico Muhly’s homage to Alan Turing, composed as a performance by counter-tenor Iestyn Davies. It was a lovely performance, consisting of seven sections, each relating to an aspect of Turing’s life. As Muhly said earlier in the week, they didn’t want to put together a typical gay tragedy, and in this they succeeded. Time will tell, of course, how durable of piece of composition it really is, but the Barbican crowd certainly enjoyed it, giving both Muhly, who conducted the glorious Britten Sinfonia, and Davies several standing ovations.

The libretto was by Adam Gopnik, whose day job is as a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. In the program notes, Gopnik makes an interesting point—writing something new these days about Turing is like writing something new about Robin Hood. The myths have become so ingrained that’s it’s hard to come up with anything truly new. Turing has been not only rehabilitated, he’s nearly been canonized. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Venting

We haven’t had a good Rock and Roll venting around here for a while, so here goes.

The 2015 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame took place a couple of months ago, and, let’s see, who’s in this year? Ringo Starr, The Five Royales, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Green Day, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bill Withers. Compared to some other years, this isn’t a terrible list by any means. There are some good rock bands here, and some fine, if not particularly original, guitar work in Vaughan. I always thought Reed was over-rated as both a songwriter and a performer, but that’s probably just me—lots of people think he was really deep, and he had what a lot of non-New Yorkers thought was a New York attitude, or something. And I’m absolutely delighted about the (long, long overdue) induction of the Butterfield Blues Band. But Ringo Starr? As a solo performer? Really? Levon Helm was a much better drummer, put together much better All-Star bands, and he’s not in. What’s up with that? Well, Ringo is LA through and through, and Helm—upstate New York. There you go. Continue reading

Tournament of Rock: The 5280 – congratulations to Space Team Electra

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And the results are in. The vote was very tight – 52% to 48% – and the victor in the finals of the Tournament of Rock: The 5280 is the late great Space Team Electra. Congrats to Myshel, Bill, Greg and Kit, who are without questions one of the best bands I have ever heard. Many of you might not have heard of them, sadly, and if that’s the case you owe it to yourself to get your hands on a copy of The Vortex Flower or The Intergalactic Torch Song.

Major props are also due to runner-ups Fiction 8 – Mardi, Heather and our good friend Michael. Continue reading

Tournament of Rock

Tournament of Rock: The 5280 FINALS – Space Team Electra vs Fiction 8

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In our second semifinal Space Team Electra thumped Snake Rattle Rattle Snake to advance to the grand final.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know what to tell you – these are my two favorite Colorado bands ever, I’m friends with both bands, and have even co-written some songs with one of them. There are no bad votes here.

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