CATEGORY: MusicPopularCulture

40 years of Bowie (and my life)

In an important way, Bowie isn’t really dead.

The cover of Bowie's album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

The cover of Bowie’s album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps

I’ve been listening to David Bowie’s music for more than 40 years, I didn’t think of the arc of his work when I heard he died. Nor did I think exclusively about the great music he made during those years. I also reminisced about specific times and specific people.

The first person I thought of was a girlfriend who was the first Bowie fan I knew. I remember her telling me how her mother gave her hell for playing the song “Rebel Rebel” from Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album too loudly. It seems her mother didn’t see any redeeming social values in lines like “You’ve got your mother in a whirl/She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl,” or “Hot tramp, I love you so.”

This girl dressed like Lady Stardust, especially when it came to the outrageous platform shoes and androgynous hairstyles that were so popular in the early ’70s. We attended the same college, and in the summer of ’74, I was working at a job that required me to become a member of the United Steelworkers union. I had long hair at the time, and to a lot of those older, blue-collar workers, long hair was an invitation to either tell me I looked like a girl or call me a faggot. That summer, I went to visit this girl (she lived in a Buffalo suburb), and we were walking through a now-nonexistent mall when one of my Steelworker tormentors saw us. My girlfriend’s appearance was a mix of glitter, a sexy Ziggy Stardust-esque hairdo, hot pants, long legs and platform shoes. Continue reading

CATEGORY: MusicPopularCulture

RIP David Bowie, marketing genius

David Bowie Space OddityOne of popular music’s greatest artists was also an icon of content marketing

This may be the most unexpected tribute you read to Rock megastar David Bowie, who has died at age 69 a mere two days after the release of his acclaimed new CD, Blackstar.

Before I start, let me acknowledge that some readers may feel like I’m sullying the legacy of one of our greatest artists by associating him with marketing. There are two answers to that charge. First off, art and marketing aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. You can do both. Second, if you can examine Bowie’s career, paying attention to all the times he reinvented his image and to the impact he exerted on fashion, without accepting that he was a branding genius, then you don’t know much about marketing. Continue reading

Dr. Sammy’s top 15 CDs of 2015

Nathaniel Rateliff and the NightSweats

Nathaniel Rateliff and the NightSweats

UPDATE: A couple things. First, while we saw videos and single releases in December, David Bowie’s Blackstar wasn’t released until January, which is why it isn’t here. Check back a year from now – odds are decent he’ll make the cut.

Second, I pulled together a Spotify playlist for those of you who want a bit more. A couple tunes from the bands noted below (save Fiction 8, which isn’t on Spotify) plus a track here and there from some other albums I listened to and enjoyed during the course of the year.

Listen to Dr. Sammy’s Best CDs of 2015 on Spotify Continue reading

#SNRGTR: more guitar solos

SNR-GTRI did a post back in 2010 on my favorite guitar solos, and as I reconsider it, there’s not much I would change. It’s still a pretty good old fart guitar solo list, but it is a bit light on stuff after, say, 1990. Well, I’m an old fart. The thing about most of these guys is that there’s generally so much to choose from, it’s hard to winnow it down to one choice per guitarist. Dutch guitar supremo Jan Akkerman has written dozens of brilliant songs—the problem is picking just one. I have to say I really like Michael Smith’s breakdown of guitar solos into the two categories he mentions—loosely, the composed solo and the improvised one. I had never really thought of solos in these terms, not being a musician, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to break these down.
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#SNRGTR: Tony Hamera of The Blueflowers breaks down Chelsea Wolfe

by Tony Hamera

Tony Hamera of The Blueflowers

Tony Hamera of The Blueflowers

I’m going to go “off the board” with my choice for best guitar work, and that’s the song “Mer” by Chelsea Wolfe from her 2010 album Apokcalypsis. Some have described her sound as “21st Century Gothic,” and “Haunted Avant Garde,” and those are fairly accurate but do not fully describe her brilliance and creativity. As a guitar player, I am always looking at the whole of compositions, rather than the solos or certain parts in particular; Wolfe’s compositions (along with her guitar playing) are fully formed, interesting to listen to, and very intense. Continue reading

Scott Weiland’s ex says “don’t glorify this tragedy,” but …

Is Mary Forsberg Weiland being honest with herself?

And now, for today’s “yes, but” story.

In an open letter, the late Scott Weiland’s ex-wife talks at length about the loss the couple’s children face and she lingers on how hard she worked to save him, even after they split.

I couldn’t agree more with every word she says. Seriously. And I feel for her having to raise two children who will never know what it is to have a healthy dad. My father drank himself to death – literally – and even in the best of times was little more than a guy I knew who’d take me somewhere like the rodeo every once in awhile. And on more occasions than one, to bars. When I was 15. When I was 5. Continue reading

#SNRGTR: Michael Smith of Fiction 8 on the two kinds of solos

by Michael Smith

There are basically two kinds of guitar solos: the ones that are improvised and the ones that are composed specifically for the song.

Michael Smith of Fiction 8

Michael Smith of Fiction 8

The former can be impressive sometimes, particularly in a live setting. It’s a little less remarkable on a recording, of course, because the soloist can just do a number of takes and then pick the best one.

For me though, I’m a big fan of the composed solo, where the solo is in total service of the song. It’s about adding something tangible to the song rather than just showcasing the guitarist’s abilities. It’s about approaching the song as a composition, not a performance: writing out parts, iterating on them, building off of them, changing transitions or chord progressions underneath until you have something that pulls the floor out from under you, lifts you up into the stratosphere, or both. Continue reading

#SNRGTR: Sam’s favorite guitar solos

Part 1 in a series.

SNR-GTRI’ll go first. And since it’s my idea, I’ll take the editor’s privilege and cheat a bit by giving you two solos instead of one.

Up first, we go back to 1974 and “Brighton Rock,” the lead track on Queen’s third album, Sheer Heart Attack. The band’s first two releases had been relentlessly self-conscious in their forays into fantasy (check out “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” off Queen II for an illustration).

But SHA opens with a boot to the teeth, highlighted by a Brian May solo that I guess is an example of what William Miller in Almost Famous meant by “incendiary.” Just … damn. Continue reading

#SNRGTR: Our favorite guitar solos

SNR-GTRStarting tomorrow – fittingly, on TunesDay – S&R will launch SNRGTR, a series spotlighting our favorite guitar work of all time. We were tempted to say “greatest,” but we’ve all read enough online lists from trolls music journalists to know where that leads.

Instead, we have kept it simple, selecting our most cherished axe moments. We’ll tell you what we love and why, we’ll share some audio and video, and even better, we have invited many of our favorite musicians, music writers and superfans to contribute, as well. Continue reading

Miley Cyrus VMAs

Is this what our culture has come to?

Miley Cyrus VMAsMiley Cyrus is a Girl Scout compared to Wendy O. Williams, whose performances were getting her arrested for lewd conduct 30 years ago.

Three faculty colleagues and I spoke informally last week at a lunchtime program for people who work at the university but don’t teach. They invited us to talk about what it’s like to host a weekly show on the university’s student-run radio station.

One of the speakers is in his early ’70s, I would guess. He’s a good guy: cordial and well traveled, with deep knowledge about a wide range of topics. He began by saying he had seen a clip from an MTV music awards special that showed Miley Cyrus being her faux outrageous, self-promoting self.

“Is this what our culture has come to?” he asked earnestly. Continue reading


The best Halloween movie you’ve never seen

Herk Harvey’s cult classic Carnival of Souls is full of creepy, atmospheric goodness – just right for a Halloween movie fest…

Press book cover art for Carnival of Souls (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Given that it’s Halloween, time to take note of a cult classic that in its atmospheric creepiness ranks as high as Romero’s original Zombie classic or anything dreamed up by David Lynch, Brian de Palma, or any of the other more  recent masters of what Count Floyd would call “scary stuff.”  In fact, this is a film that both Lynch and Romero have cited repeatedly as influential on their work.

The film is Carnival of Souls, and it was made by a highly successful industrial/educational film director. Harold “Herk”Harvey spent most of his career making films for Lawrence, Kansas, based Centron Films (later subsumed under Coronet Films, an even more well known ed/industry film company) with titles such as Health: Your Posture, Shake Hands With Danger, and Manners in Public. On the road driving back to Kansas after having worked on a film in California, he passed an abandoned amusement park outside Salt Lake City that creeped him out – and which inspired Carnival of Souls.

The film concerns a young woman who is involved in a horrific car accident (the car she’s riding in plunges off a bridge into a swollen river). As rescuers are dragging the river trying to recover the car, she emerges from the water, having somehow survived the catastrophe. Perhaps. Continue reading

John and Sean…

Both John Lennon and his youngest son Sean share the same birthday. Imagine that….

Today is Sean Lennon’s birthday. He’s 40. That’s an eerily special birthday to Sean, I’m guessing, given that his dad John celebrated his 40th birthday exactly 35 years ago – and was dead two month later, murdered by the madman who shall not be named here. I also suspect that he’s doing his best to enjoy his day and find what peace he can in his likely fuzzy (he was only five when his father was killed) memories of John.

I’ve written plenty about John Lennon over the years which you can read here and here. I’ve also written about Sean and his half-brother Julian. Their lives have been like the lives of many children of famous people: not particularly happy despite their wealth and fame.

So let’s remember the good times on this special day in the Lennon family. Continue reading

Great new music for fall: Saturday Video Roundup

Chvrches, Metric, Meg Myers and IAMX lead the charge into autumn

No major theme today – just some cool new discoveries. Let’s start with the latest from Chvrches – folks, end to end this is one of the absolute best pop CDs I have ever heard. “Leave a Trace” is the lead single and it’s the earworm from hell, but I’m not sure it’s one of the five best songs on the disc.

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When a capella met metal: Saturday Video Roundup

So, I wake up this morning to find that Frank Balsinger has uncovered an a capella take on Rammstein’s “Du Hast.” Because of course somebody would have to do that, and of course Frank would find it. So for SVR today, let’s enjoy some a capella abomination. I guess that would be a bomination, huh?

First, Viva Vox, and if you don’t get why this is so great, by all means click the link above and review the original.

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Nathaniel Rateliff & the NightSweats: CD of the Year candidate

Okay, the verdict is in. I’ve spun the eponymous Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats at least 20 times now and it’s a legit CD of the year candidate. I’m hearing influences ranging from Sam Cooke to Van Morrison to old Appalachian gospel. Let’s check a couple vids, shall we? Here’s the one people seem to be raving about, “SOB.”

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