Music

What is the true story about The Beatles’ rise to fame?

“The people who screwed you on your way to rock stardom will screw you on your way down – the people you screwed will try to get even.” – Jay Breeze, The Rock and Roll Handbook

Would be Beatles circa 1975

Would be Beatles circa 1975 – author at front right

I mentioned in my last essay that Larry Kane’s book When They Were Boys seemed problematic to me because Kane seemed to lack empathy with The Beatles even though he knew them rather intimately as a young reporter about the same age as the lads when he covered their 1964, ’65, and ’66 tours of America. It seems to me that Kane’s book is a possible example of what one person who commented on my piece thinks of when using the now bowdlerized term “fair and balanced“: in an effort to maintain “journalistic distance” and “objectivity,” reporters put themselves into the position of failing to admit (even embrace) their biases and accept their subjectivity. They thus set themselves up to make false equivalences that render what they mean to be “the accurate truth” neither accurate nor truthful.

That’s part of the problem with When They Were Boys. Continue reading

Dotsun Moon finds an answer on vox: Saturday Video Roundup

Dotsun Moon’s new singer, Maria Sebastian, is simply wonderful. Here’s proof.

In my top CDs of 2016 list last week, I propped Rich Flierl and Dotsun Moon, a band doing some serious soul-searching after losing its very talented lead singer. Rich dropped some new tunes on me the other day, and they suggest that in Maria Sebastian he has found an answer on the mic. Here’s what I mean – this is “My Apology,” and it’s heartbreakingly lovely.

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Music and Popular Culture

The true story of The Beatles: Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness…When They Were Boys by Larry Kane

“In Liverpool, no one ever really walks alone.” – Larry Kane

How much do stars owe to those who helped them become stars?

When They Were Boys by Larry Kane (image courtesy Goodreads)

When They Were Boys by Larry Kane (image courtesy Goodreads)

That is the central question in Larry Kane’s latest book on The Beatles, When They Were Boys. Kane has the credentials to ask such a question – he traveled as part of the press entourage attached to The Fabs during their entire 1964 and 1965 tours (and most of their 1966 tour). In that period he met many of the key players in the background of what is historically called Beatlemania: Brian Epstein, the record store executive who became their manager and paternal figure; Tony Barrow and Derek Taylor, two brilliant journalists and PR experts who helped the rising band become a media tsunami; Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, and Tony Bramwell, local Liverpool mates who served as protectors, gofers, and confidants for the guys at the center of the maelstrom; and an array of former supporters, promoters, and club owners/managers ranging from Alan Williams (who died on the last day of the heinous 2016) to deposed Beatle Pete Best’s mother Mona to Sam Leach, a promoter who helped The Beatles gain better engagements and expand their reach beyond Liverpool to Manchester and other cities.

Each has a story to tell – and an ax to grind. Continue reading

Doc's 2016 Playlist

@Doc’s Best CDs of 2016 List

2016 was an odd year for music. But at least Bowie left us a masterpiece on his way out the door.

David Bowie - BLACKSTAR

David Bowie – BLACKSTAR

If I were doing my year-end ratings and reviews the way I used to I have no idea what I’d make of 2016. It started horribly, with David Bowie, one of the most influential geniuses in rock history, releasing Blackstar and then dying almost immediately. He was followed, in short order, by a lot of other people, including Prince, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones and 2/3 of ELP.

So it seemed like every good new release was tempered, to a degree, by the fact that the Reaper was taking more than his share. Which meant, I think, that I never got into my usual new music groove.

Regardless, 2016 did present us with some wonderful sounds across a range of genres. Continue reading

asshole-of-the-year-2016

The 2016 Asshole of the Year is … 2016 itself

2016 isn’t a person or a monster, but the collective assholery of all we experienced transcends the normal rules. Here’s to you, 2016 – and good riddance.

asshole-of-the-year-2016

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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Remembering 2016: the year when everyone died

No, famous people won’t stop dying on January 1. But we lost too many bright lights this year and we hope that 2017 will be better. Here’s a list of noteworthy people who died in 2016.

For the past several months a lot of us have been saying we can’t wait for this damned year to be over.

2016 gave us the worst election season I can remember, and every ten minutes or so another beloved artist would die, it seemed. Any year that gives us Donald Trump and takes Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince in return has done more damage than some decades.

No, people aren’t going to stop dying at the stroke of midnight tomorrow. Continue reading

The darkest song ever sung: “Coventry Carol” (Saturday Video Roundup)

Remembering the blackest moment of the entire nativity cycle is an odd way to celebrate.

For a couple weeks now I have been assembling my “Dark Christmas Melancholy” playlist, a process I described in a post a few days ago.

While I have listened to (and sung) a lot of holiday music through the years, my little project introduced me to a classic that somehow I had never encountered before, the English traditional “Coventry Carol.” This version, by Darkwave artists Nox Arcana, is by far my favorite for the way in which it captures the interwoven beauty and horror of the Massacre of the Innocents story.

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christmas

A dark holiday playlist – and one man’s melancholy war with childhood

There is beauty in the darkness. This is all I have ever known.

Beauty doesn’t work the same for me as it does for most people. I first started realizing this in Mr. Booth’s (excuse me, Dr. Booth’s) English V class at Ledford High School in 1978 and 1979. I remember two moments distinctly. First, we read “The Eve of St. Agnes,” by Keats. I recall being overwhelmed by a) its darkness, and b) its beauty. This was not a traditional sunny pastoral. It’s a poem of the night, one of mystery and compelling seductive splendor.

Later we read Tennyson’s equally marvelous “The Lady of Shalott.” Again, I was struck by the way in which beauty was interwoven with dark, even sinister themes.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of my reactions to these masterworks, but something was afoot, and when I started writing poetry on my own (as long as we’re on the subject of darkness and doom) it began with a piece called “Octoberfaust,” which I tried to infuse with as much mystery and passionate nocturne as I could muster.

Of course, looking back, my melancholy aesthetic didn’t begin in high school. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The consolations of literature…

 

Life is a jest; and all things show it/ I though so once; but now I know it. – John Gay

It’s just words, folks, just words…. – Donald Trump

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Friends ask me with some regularity why it is that I spend so much of my free time reading and contemplating and writing about literature. I forswore writing about politics several years ago. (I think it was about 2010 that I gave up trying to say anything useful on the topic. I may have let slip the odd veiled or not-so-veiled reference in the essays I write about literature, but my active days as a critic of this, that, or the other political activity or politician are over.)

Great days – or if the Chinese curse is more apt, interesting days – are upon us, however, and while I can and do find comfort at times in Lord Byron’s flippancy:

I would to heaven that I were so much clay,
As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling—
Because at least the past were passed away—
And for the future—(but I write this reeling,
Having got drunk exceedingly today,
So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling)
I say—the future is a serious matter—
And so—for God’s sake—hock and soda water!

I find that as I contemplate the changes likely to be wrought in my country with the election of the author of one of the epigraphs that begin this essay, that I must find more – and healthier – consolations than the one the 6th Baron of Newstead Abbey proposes.

And so I turn to literature.  Continue reading

Love is not a victory march: Saturday Video Roundup

My favorite versions of the greatest pop song ever written – goodbye, Leonard

2016 took Leonard Cohen, one of popular music’s true iconic geniuses, from us this week. I have said before that I think “Hallelujah” is perhaps the greatest popular song in history, and as evidence I would simply note that it has been covered countless times by an array of brilliant musicians. And nobody, I have learned, recognizes and respects musical genius like another musician.

Today for SVR we offer you some of the very best takes on that amazing song. Some you have probably heard. Some are likely new to you. All are the soul of reverence for one of the most compelling talents who ever walked among us.

We start with Jeff Buckley. Most people I know regard this as the definitive version of the song.

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Election Day. #HopeTuesday. TunesDay.

Three videos for Election Day. Who do we want to be?

Some years ago Sean Kelly of The Samples penned what has to be the election day anthem. It acknowledges what we all know, it notes the reasons we have to abandon hope, and still it insists that we carry on.

It’s Election Day 2016. What choice will you make about the world you want to live in?

Carry on. (Lyrics below.)

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Polyphonica Crimson S review: Scholars and Rogues’ new Anime Binge feature (updated)

Music played from the heart can tame a wild spirit, which you can then use to protect or kill people for you. Spoilers ahead.

I’ve been watching anime since before I knew what anime was, starting with Star Blazers and Robotech on US television when I was a kid. Ever since college, though, when I was “officially” introduced to anime via subtitled versions of Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo, Bubblegum Crisis, et al, I’ve watched and generally enjoyed anime. Now that I’m in my 40s, my kids have joined me in watching anime, and thus far they’ve enjoyed what they’ve seen.

Given how much time I spend watching anime these days (sometimes you just need a few hours of pure escapism), I decided a while back that I wanted to start writing reviews on anime I’ve been watching. Anime that was fun or not, anime that was binge worthy or not, anime I couldn’t watch past the first episode or two because it was so lame, and so on. I’ve also invited my fellow anime watching Scrogues to contribute their own Anime Binge reviews as well if they are so inclined. If you have feedback for making Anime Binge better or you want to go deeper into the anime I reviewed, please comment and I’ll see what I can in the next review. Continue reading

Music

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame can eat every dick in the bag

With each passing year, the R&RHoF further distances itself from any pretense at credibility. Artists who haven’t gotten the call should be proud.

It’s that time of year again, when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (aka, the Mistake by the Lake, part 2) reminds us of the depth of their corruption and irrelevance.

That’s right – the annual list of nominees is out. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Category 1: Wait – you mean these people aren’t in already?

  • ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA (ELO) – Should have happened years ago.
  • JOAN BAEZ – Hugely important for that branch of the R&R tree.
  • MC5 – I can’t believe the committee is even acknowledging the existence of a band with such utter lack of commercial appeal.
  • PEARL JAM – I’m not a big fan, but absolutely worthy.
  • THE CARS – I’d have bet the farm they were already members in good standing. How in the hell have they not made it in by 2016?
  • THE ZOMBIES – Again, I’m stunned they’re just now being put forward.
  • YES – Fucking Yes isn’t in yet? Oh well, at least Rock pioneers like Madonna have been duly enshrined.

Category 2: Really? Okay, I guess.

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S&R Honors: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize: a personal view (S&R Honors)

Bob Dylan’s award feels like a sop to a generation many of whose finest artistic talents took a popular art form (the rock song) and raised it to unheard of heights of artistry in both musical expression and lyrical content.

Part 2 of a series.

“Life is more or less a lie, but then again, that’s exactly the way we want it to be.” – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan by Martin Sharp (image courtesy Dangerous Minds)

Bob Dylan by Martin Sharp (image courtesy Dangerous Minds)

Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and I have been struggling with how I feel about that. Like many, my first response on being told the news was astonishment. It felt to me momentarily as if it were 1967 again when The Times of London gave a full page, serious, and respectful review to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and in an editorial in that same newspaper William Rees-Mogg, less than a month later, excoriated the British criminal justice system for its heavy handed treatment of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to maximum sentences for a minor drug bust in a now classic editorial titled “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?

It felt, then, like the counter culture was winning, that finally, to use a truly quaint term, “the establishment” was seeing the world as my g-g-generation saw it. Mick and Keith should be set free by “The Man” to make more music and Sgt. Pepper was great art.

As another of my heroes of those days said famously a couple of years later, all their received wisdom, their rules, their culture, didn’t “…mean shit to a tree.”

Zeitgeist is a helluva drug, isn’t it? Continue reading

Nobel Committee gives Bob Dylan the wrong prize

Dylan is one of the greatest artists of his time. But his genius wasn’t about Literature.

Part 1 of a series.

The Nobel Committee today awarded American folk icon Bob Dylan its annual prize for Literature. Not surprisingly, reactions have been mixed.

I’m a bit torn myself. There is no questioning at all the immensity of Dylan’s artistic accomplishments, and there’s perhaps even less argument to be had over the influence he has wielded not only over popular music, but over the larger culture. It is simply impossible to imagine what the US would look like today had he never been born, but we can start by considering his role in the anti-war movement of the ’60s. In truth, you could look at his centrality to the revolts that eventually led to the end of that war and make a case that he deserved the Peace Prize.

And what about the who’s who of musical artists who followed in his steps? A very small catalog of those who owe their souls to Dylan would include these names, and if there’s nobody on here that you love and admire you just don’t like music. Continue reading