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  1. Maazel Tov
  2. Paul Bingham on Alternative Airplay
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  4. Jazz Goes Geriatric
  5. Rock is ... Forever?
  6. Discrimination in the Theater
  7. Ukelele Ramones
  8. Listening by Yourself
  9. Opera Subtitles
  10. More Townes

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Music, Dance, etc.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Maazel Tov
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Okay, so the title to this post can't possibly be original. And I'm writing about music, about which I know almost nothing. But the nature of blogging is that bloggers tend to write about what they encounter on the Web or in daily life. Yesterday, we ventured to downtown Los Angeles and the Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by Frank Gehry -- I'll have photos and an article about it one of these days) to witness the Los Angeles Philharmonic and guest conductor Lorin Maazel. The program began with a suite from Der Rosenkavalier followed by The Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome (the latter including singing by Nancy Gustafson) by Richard Strauss. After the intermission was the Second Symphony by Jean Sibelius. We went because my wife wanted to see the Disney and soak up some culture. "Arts buff" me was thinking that, for the price of my ticket, I could buy three classical CDs of my choosing to pop into the trusty little Bose in our living room while avoiding the stress and hassle of navigating a downtown LA I hadn't visited in more than 20 years. The main attraction for me was seeing Maazel conduct. The gent is pushing 80 really hard (his birthday is in March), yet was energetic enough for the 90 or so minutes he was on the podium. Actually, Gustafson proved a surprise attraction. She's in her early 50s and, as Salome, was wearing a slinky, semi-see-through gown: Bravo! quoth me. Oh yes. The music. I'm not a huge Strauss fan. We saw his opera Elektra a while ago, and I didn't care for it much. The two pieces Maazel conducted were okay, but I wouldn't buy a CD of them. The Sibelius was a waste of my time. Plenty of different sounds, but save for the last few minutes, no sustained melodic thrust. I never cared for Sibelius' work. But as I mentioned, I'm pretty ignorant of music, so do pile on in Comments if you wish. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 18, 2010 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Paul Bingham on Alternative Airplay
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today's guest post is by long-time reader Paul Bingham, who highlights an ignored corner of the music scene. * * * * * "Music hasn’t been this cool since the ‘70s," is the constant refrain one hears from SWPL [Stuff White People Like] who weren’t actually around then. Of course they’re not talking about what one hears on the radio. It’s the Indie Artists writing and performing what Gram Parsons called "Cosmic American Music." Musicians who are heroin thin, with a thrift store chic; children of ‘90s, raised on rap, punk and grunge who cried when Kurt Cobain’s brains went A.W.O.L. The materialism of the ‘80s and ‘90s was as much of a creative outlet for them, as extreme poverty was for their idols. Children of single parents, who lived through broken homes and those insensate, educational facilities, known as public schools, found that was possible to live relatively well in a psychological squalor which would be the creative fuel for their works. "Alternative" means unlimited by genre. Recently, The Fine Print, an album by, the Drive by Truckers, which describes itself as a "collection of oddities and rarities," outsold pop-country starlet Taylor Swift’s latest release. Anomalous, because the Drive by Truckers are not a country band. Their work runs the gamut from their debut cowpunk album, Gangstabilly, to their epic double-album Southern Rock Opera, a chronicle of the rise and fall of Lynyrd Skynyrd, to serving consecutively as the backing band for soul legends Bettey Lavette and Booker T. But despite a heavy touring schedule, best-selling albums, and 4-star reviews from Rolling Stone, the Truckers, have never charted a successful single, or received any significant airplay. Money not merit is what gets songs in rotation. Radio stations, owned by conglamorates, play music to sell advertising. Of course record labels are interested in ‘what the public wants.’ The identity of this public is anyone’s guess, but fortunately, the record companies know exactly what it doesn’t want—spontaneity and originality. Producers have any number of tricks in their bag to make any artist sound “commercially viable.” An album can "sound derivative" or it can ‘display influences.’ Beauty, after all, is the eye of the beholder. Commercial viability means that an artist’s works must fit both a genre, and a demographic. A developed, polished sound, in the language of L.A. producers means that the music has been sufficiently tamed. To compensate for the loss of creative control, newly prominent artists are allowed to make pronouncements on politics and society from a brand new bully-pulpit. This, and the money usually makes it worth their while. For those artists who won’t compromise, and can’t sell records, with their faces, there’s Americana, a broad genre encompassing everything from the punk rock sensibilities of Jeff Tweedey and Ryan Adams, to Justin Townes Earle, whose recent "folk-pop" album, Midnight at the Movies, runs the gamut of what one might hear on the radio, in 1965. Hank Williams III often plays three sets... posted by Donald at October 13, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Patty Does Lyle
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Just because sharing YouTube music-video links is automatically a Good Thing ... Here's Patty Loveless singing the heck out of a witty and touching Lyle Lovett tune: Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 10, 2009 | perma-link | (14) comments

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jazz Goes Geriatric
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today's Wall Street Journal includes the article "Can Jazz Be Saved" by Terry Teachout suggesting that jazz is going the way of classical music, if its audience is any indication. He cites results from the National Endowment for the Arts’ most recent Survey of ­Public Participation in the Arts done with the cooperation of the Census Bureau After citing a few statistics, Teachout offers the following: These numbers indicate that the audience for jazz in America is both aging and shrinking at an alarming rate. What I find no less revealing, though, is that the median age of the jazz audience is now comparable to the ages for attendees of live performances of classical music (49 in 2008 vs. 40 in 1982), opera (48 in 2008 vs. 43 in 1982), nonmusical plays (47 in 2008 vs. 39 in 1982) and ballet (46 in 2008 vs. 37 in 1982). In 1982, by contrast, jazz fans were much younger than their high-culture counterparts. What does this tell us? I suspect it means, among other things, that the average American now sees jazz as a form of high art. Nor should this come as a surprise to anyone, since most of the jazz musicians that I know feel pretty much the same way. They regard themselves as artists, not entertainers, masters of a musical language that is comparable in seriousness to classical music—and just as off-putting to pop-loving listeners who have no more use for Wynton Marsalis than they do for Felix Mendelssohn. ... Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to undo the transformation of jazz into a sophisticated art music. But there’s no sense in pretending that it didn’t happen, or that contemporary jazz is capable of appealing to the same kind of mass audience that thrilled to the big bands of the swing era. And it is precisely because jazz is now widely viewed as a high-culture art form that its makers must start to grapple with the same problems of presentation, marketing and audience development as do symphony orchestras, drama companies and art museums—a task that will be made all the more daunting by the fact that jazz is made for the most part by individuals, not established institutions with deep pockets. I've liked at least some classical music since about the time I started high school. I became interested in jazz about the same time, though this interest mostly had to do with swing bands of the late 1930s and very early 1940s. I thought Dixieland was too crude, liked some Bebop, but never could get interested in jazz created after the early 50s. For all I know, there is a lot of great music out there, but I can't bestir myself to find it. A problem I have with jazz is that it is extemporaneous. (It can't be anything else. Swing band music was based on written arrangements with slots available for on-the-fly solo riffs. So I don't consider it "real"... posted by Donald at August 8, 2009 | perma-link | (29) comments

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rock is ... Forever?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'll readily admit that popular music had generally become pretty slow, sugary and, well, awful by 1954 when Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" hit the charts. Rock 'n' Roll was a breath of fresh musical air to me and many other teenagers. That was 55 years ago. The pop genre of the early 1950s didn't entirely disappear, but new songs of that type stand little chance of big sales. Meanwhile Rock and its descendants (Disco, Heavy Metal, Grunge, etc.) continue to roll. True, the Bill Haley variety is performed as nostalgia and the same might be said for Chuck Berry's and other music from the days of Rock's comparative innocence and happiness. While Rock evolved it continued to dominate the commercial pop scene. Country music has regained some popularity and there is the species of chant called Rap/Hip Hop that's been going strong for decades longer than I at first figured it would last. (I confess that when I first heard it, thought it was a fad that wouldn't be good for more than a year, if that long. I failed to take into account that Rap requires little musical talent, allowing lots of folks to get into the act.) Keeping in mind that popular music styles take a long time to fade away (can I assume that Stephen Foster songs are now rarely heard?), I wonder how much longer Rock, broadly defined, will dominate the pop scene. They way things have been going, it might be another half-century. But then, remember how badly I misjudged Rap. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 14, 2009 | perma-link | (27) comments

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Discrimination in the Theater
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Relatively few plays written by women are produced. Can we take this as definitive evidence of discrimination against women? Research has been done: More men than women write plays, and the men are also often more prolific. Taking these numbers into account, plays by men and women are in fact produced at the same rate. Plays by women do seem to need to be better (or at least more commercial) than plays by men in order to receive productions. But who enforces this state of affairs? As it turns out: women artistic directors and women literary managers. Ladies: Sometimes you do it to yourselves. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 24, 2009 | perma-link | (71) comments

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ukelele Ramones
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Scottish jokester-musicians Gus and Fin deliver some rousing, even kickass, Ramones covers: Vaguely related: I raved about another great punk band, Gang of Four. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Listening by Yourself
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * As the Sony Walkman turns 30, A.N. Wilson is wondering if the little gadget destroyed civilization. (Link thanks to ALD) * How the iPod changed the world. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 23, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Opera Subtitles
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I am girding my loins. That's because on Friday I have to go see Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" at the Seattle Opera. In the movie "Amadeus" Emperor Joseph II tells Mozart that it was too long. Joe nailed it: it's a marathon performance. Back in 1982 I saw Marriage at the San Francisco Opera. I looked over a plot synopsis a few times before I went, but couldn't keep enough of it straight to be able to follow the events on stage. A huge problem was that it was sung in Italian and there were no subtitles. Fortunately, the Seattle Opera subtitles all its performances: without them I'd be lost every time I attended. This would be so even if the opera were in English. I lack the ability to fully understand sung words of any kind. When subtitling first arrived, snobbery and elitism kicked in. Major houses would not deign to soil their reputations by allowing the lumpenproletariat, who are inexplicably ignorant of Italian, German and French, to actually follow the plots, such as they are in opera. I'm not an opera fan and pay little attention to news about it. That, plus my laziness means I can't tell you if big-time houses such as New York's Metropolitan and the San Francisco have yielded to subtitles. Nor do I know if, say, German houses subtitle Italian operas. Any opera mavens out there ready to come to the rescue on this? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 10, 2009 | perma-link | (18) comments

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Townes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few lovely performances from the late alt-country singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, recently uploaded to YouTube: I wrote a posting about Townes -- one of my favorite artists -- back here. Buy a copy of "Be Here to Love Me," Margaret Brown's poetic documentary about Townes, here. I see that Robert Earl Hardy has just published a biography of Townes. Here's the Townes Van Zandt website. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 25, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Rhythm
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I guess everybody enjoys moving to The Gap Band! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 9, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

End of an Era? Sign of the Times?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Muzak files for bankruptcy. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 11, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Video Goodness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Colleen is a motivator. * The Christian Bale Remix. (NSFW for language.) * L'il O'Reilly evaluates Obama's first week in office. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * What's the latest in sex toys? (NSFW, as if you needed telling.) * Guy Clark loves Texas cookin'. * A well-done parody of a certain kind of French musical-film style. (Thanks once again to websurfin' virtuoso Charlton.) The real thing. * Nonvideo Bonus: How much of a geek are you? I didn't make a dent on that scale. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Best Swing Band Was ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Although I was born at the height of the swing band era, I didn't become familiar with that music until I became a teenager. That's when a Seattle radio station (KJR) began playing a lot of classic cuts. The Wikipedia entry on swing is here. I don't agree with some of the details, including the list of bandleaders and sidemen. But that might be ignorance on my part; after all, I haven't paid a lot of attention to the history of swing since the days of my early enthusiasm. That small matter aside, I thought I'd toss out a sample list of swing band leaders for your consideration. I have my favorite, and swing-fan readers surely have theirs. In Comments, feel free to include other bands. For starters: Charlie Barnet Count Basie Cab Calloway Tommy Dorsey Duke Ellington Benny Goodman Glen Gray Woody Herman Glenn Miller Artie Shaw My favorite? Benny Goodman, of course. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 1, 2009 | perma-link | (27) comments

Friday, December 12, 2008

Music for the Day: "My Boyfriend's Back"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Gratifying to see a new generation applying their talents to the classics, isn't it? Stacie Orrico performs "My Boyfriend's Back," backed by Brittany Snow and Vanessa Lengies: A big part of the fun for me in watching the video came from the way the girls do such a good job of showing off their pastel-colored Capri pants. Are there many things cuter than teen girls in Capri pants? I'm hoping that that's one style that'll never go out of fashion. Here's the original (and much crisper, or perhaps pushier) 1963 version of "My Boyfriend's Back." God I love that one rhyme: "My boyfriend's back, he's gonna save my reputation / If I were you, I'd take a permanent vacation." From Wikipedia I learned that ... * One of the song's composers, Richard Gottehrer, later turned to record production, and produced the first albums by Blondie and the Go-Gos. * Capri pants were originally created by a European fashion designer, Sonja de Lennart, in 1948. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 12, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Music for the Day: Delbert McClinton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Whenever things in the world of American entertainment start to seem too damn unmanly, I know the time has come to post (and then re-post) some Delbert McClinton: R&B, country, jazz -- Delbert's music is as big as Texas. And this song even comes with a message you don't hear often enough in today's pop culture: "Love ain't no good until you give it away." Ain't that the truth, or at least a big part of it? I raved about the greatness of Delbert back here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Music for the Day: Dobie Gray
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dobie Gray shows loads of ease, soul, and style in this live version of his 1973 hit "Drift Away": Here's the Dobie Gray website. Take a look at how many artists have made covers of this soft-rock classic! Mentor Williams wrote the song. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 6, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Moving Images of All Kinds Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * David Chute gets off a lot of hilariously wry, understated, and apt-sounding lines in a short review about a gritty but bogus new youth film called "Fix." (Scroll down a bit.) * Stu Maschwitz is finding the video that the new SLR cameras capture very sexy. I'm such a huge fan of the mixed video-still camera ... * Joe Valdez gives Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" some well-deserved respect, and revisits 1978's moody and influential LA crime movie "Straight Time." * "Not There Yet", an excellent animated short. * Horror Yearbook lists the top 15 transsexual-killer movies. Not that I've given the topic a lot of thought, but it is a little weird, the way so many movie thrillers have made transsexuals the bad guys, isn't it? * The most influential wine critic in Japan is a cartoon character. * The Playful Painter has an active mind and eye, and posts very entertaining and educational time-lapse painting videos. That's a genre that I've been enjoying exploring recently. * The Half Life 2 version of a Rube Goldberg machine. * MBlowhard Rewind: By popular demand, a posting in which I recommended some rewarding recent-ish movies. No showboating editing of the kind Donald wrote about in any of these, except for "The Island." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Indian Music
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ramesh supplies a bachelor's-degree's worth of links about Indian music. Ah, the wonder that is YouTube. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 23, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Aging Giants
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Mick Jagger reflects a little on what it's like to be 65. If I'm counting right, Jagger is the father of seven kids. Here's a track from one of the Stones' better periods: Hard to ignore how un-PC the lyrics are by today's standards, isn't it? At the time they were enjoyed not as offensive but as sweetly risque. * Legendary film composer Ennio ("The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly") Morricone turns 80. In this clip, Morricone conducts some of the music from the film: What are the odds that Morricone's film scores will be remembered for longer than much of the era's "serious" standalone music? I'd guess they're pretty good. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 12, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mood-Lift for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Funkiness, good humor, krazy kolors, and some of the biggest Afros ever seen -- that's right, it's 1973, and Billy Preston is stomping out "Will It Go 'Round in Circles": Whoo! Happy music indeed. Here's the Billy Preston Website. Billy -- who enjoyed a few years as a headliner as well as a long career as a superb sideman, performing with an amazing array of artists that included Mahalia Jackson, The Beatles, Jackie Wilson, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin -- would have turned 62 this year. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 10, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Little Delbert for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Country / r&b / swamp music? That's a recipe that equals "Delbert McClinton": And the wisdom contained in that song! "Love ain't no good until you give it away" -- yes! If you run across anything more profound than that today, please let me know about it. There are mornings when I just can't get enough of Delbert's country-funk, and this is one of them. YouTube to the rescue: Delbert always gives away more than his fair share. I rhapsodized about the force-of-nature, big-as-all-Texas genius that is Delbert McClinton back here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ray Lowry R.I.P.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Sorry to see that legendary British "rock cartoonist" Ray Lowry has died at 64. Lowry is most famous as the guy who came up with the concept for The Clash's "London Calling" record jacket, but he was also an exciting and witty cartoonist with a long history of work at Private Eye, Melody Maker, and Punch. The Ray Lowry website features a selection of his art. Read a good obit here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 16, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, September 19, 2008

Annabella at 15
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A spin-off from my recent posting about Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" ... Here's the website of Annabella Lwin, the onetime jailbait-sexpot singer for Bow Wow Wow. Here's the record jacket that made her notorious even in punk circles. Be forewarned: Annabella was only 15 when that sexy photo was taken. What ought to be made of the under-ageness question? Do we have no choice but to draw a line and condemn the image as evil? Despite the fact that it's funny and cute? Despite the fact that it has already attained minor-modern-icon semi-immortality? And despite the fact that the punk scene was teeming with lovably trampy 15 year old girls? Bonus point: The girl in "Mademoiselle O'Murphy," aka "Nude on a Sofa," was 14 at the time Boucher painted her. Kiddie cheesecake? Or a classic work of art? Shortly after the painting was completed Louis XV took the little charmer as a mistress. Read more here. So what kind of misbehavior-slack do we need to cut the arts scene? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 19, 2008 | perma-link | (39) comments

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mood Lift for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some uncharacteristically light-hearted good times from The Animals: Wonderfully clunky mid-'60s camerawork and editing, and sweet screaming girl-fans too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 16, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not-so-mostly Mozart
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Leisure & Arts segment of the 30 July Wall Street Journal features this piece by Barrymore Lawrence Scherer in which he interviews the Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival music director Louis Langrée and artistic director Jane Moss. Attendees will be treated to the following: Indeed, in keeping with this year's festival theme of "Loss and Transformation," the programs include not only Mahler's chamber version of "Das Lied von der Erde" (tonight), music to "Pelléas and Mélisande" by Fauré (Aug. 8) and by Sibelius (Aug. 15 and 16), and Richard Strauss's "Metamorphosen" (Aug. 22, 23), but also two U.S. premieres of major contemporary works. The first is by the festival's resident composer, Finland's Kaija Saariaho, "La Passion de Simone" (Aug. 13, 15 and 17). A staged oratorio, with soprano Dawn Upshaw and dancer Michael Schumacher directed by Peter Sellars, the work, to a text by the Paris-based Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, interprets the brief life of the French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil (1909-43), whose frailty and ill health fired her religious mysticism. The second is "Requiem," a choreographic work by the Samoan-born, New Zealand-based theater artist and choreographer Lemi Ponifasio. Inspired by Mozart's Requiem and performed (Aug. 8 and 9) by Mr. Ponifasio's company, MAU, it is "a journey of hope and desire for transformation," in the composer's words, that filters traditional Samoan themes of death and remembrance through a modern intellect. ... Loss and transformation are also the context for two video art installations by the Australian Lynette Wallworth. "A profound environmental message underlies 'Hold: Vessel 1 and 2,'" says Ms. Moss, who first saw the installation in Vienna during the 2006 celebrations there of Mozart's 250th birthday. As visitors pass through beams of light while holding reflective glass bowls, she says, they are immersed in beautiful projected images, which are actually elements of decaying coral reefs. The second installation, "Invisible by Night," uses an interactive video screen to allow participants to experience empathy for others' grief. "We've installed both works in the lobby of the Rose Theater, where we are presenting Saariaho's 'Le Passion de Simone' and Pontifasio's 'Requiem,'" says Ms. Moss, who is also Lincoln Center's vice president for programming. "And we're hoping that audiences at those performances will perceive both the installations and the performances as part of a unified emotional experience." "So," I ask, "now that Mostly Mozart is continually broadening its repertoire to embrace even contemporary composers and visual artists, what reflection is there between Mostly Mozart and the Lincoln Center Festival, which precedes it each summer?" Ms. Moss responds without hesitation. "Lincoln Center Festival is less a music festival than an eclectic, international celebration of contemporary performing arts. Mostly Mozart remains a music festival, and no matter how far afield Louis and I roam, Mozart remains the composer in focus and the crystal through which the other compositions are refracted." On the basis of Scherer's article, it looks like Mozart was simply an excuse for... posted by Donald at July 30, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Videos for the Day: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Written by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus, the song was first recorded (in 1964) by the pianist / chanteuse (and civil-rights movement heroine) Nina Simone: The song became a hit when its moroseness was given a kickin' R&B beat by The Animals: Santa Esmerelda released a 16 minute-long Latinized disco version of the song in 1977. Quentin Tarantino included some bars from it in "Kill Bill": And Elvis Costello made an impact when he took the song slow and raw in 1986: Votes? Me, I adore The Animals' version and feel some fondness for the postpunk soul of Costello's. Best, Michael UPDATE: JMW rightly scolds me for neglecting to include Joe Cocker's version of the song. Here's a live rendition:... posted by Michael at July 26, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ST News
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Shouting Thomas makes it through a terrible stretch and discovers that life on the other side can be good. It's fun reading his observations about Philippine folk basketball and sticking it out in the music biz too. Buy a copy of ST's rollicking new party CD -- slyly entitled "Innocence" -- here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 23, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, July 18, 2008

Music Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some confident and powerful grooves from Mississippi blues outfit Homemade Jamz: In case you haven't read about Homemade Jamz ... The three main members are siblings: Ryan Perry on vocals and lead guitar, Kyle Perry on bass, and Taya Perry on drums. Ryan is 16 years old, Kyle is 13, and Taya is all of 9. Here's their MySpace page, where you can listen to a few more tracks. Type "Homemade Jamz" into the YouTube Search box and riches will emerge. Read about them here, and watch a news report about them here. Fans of "Mustang Sally" (written by Mack Rice, made famous by Wilson Pickett) can enjoy a satisfyingly funky Homemade Jamz version here. Lots of closeups of the ultra-cute and talented Taya. In a very different vein: Thanks to The Fredosphere, who links to OC Times, the winners of this year's Barbershop Quartet competition: They're pretty soulful in their own way, no? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 18, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Much Applause is Merited?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is an advisory. If you or persons within sight of your computer screen are sensitive to ranting, please activate your Curmudgeon Deflection Shields now. [Pause for shield activation] Saturday I got dragged into attending a concert at this venue. I'm not big on live concerts because hearing the same stuff via a recording is far more convenient and less expensive. Not that there was anything wrong with the concert, mind you. The guy in charge was a founding member of the Philadelphia String Quartet and the three twentysomethings who played the Beethoven with him seemed okay too. So I have to assume the concertos were competently played. What? Donald, the great Blowhard, can't appreciate musicianship? You betcha I can't. Appreciating performance art is for me akin to appreciating coffee. I can tell bad coffee. But I can't easily distinguish between adequate coffee and great coffee. Same goes for acting, ballet dancing, opera singing or, in the present case, fiddling. Whether something is competently done or great, it sounds pretty much the same to me. Doubtless some of this is because I don't attend many live performances and lack experience when trying to evaluate. And for music, there's the factor that my hearing has never been very good; even at age 20 I had trouble hearing higher frequencies that most other people hear. Moreover, I'm not musical. My father and daughter were/are, but that gene seems to have skipped my generation. Because I can't tell okay from great, the applause at the end of the performance puzzled me a little. Many in the audience went semi-berserk, wildly applauding and hooraying. You say: Because you are such a cultural dimwit, you failed to realize that the performance was obviously fabulous and deserved every huzzah the audience could muster. Maybe so. On the other hand, I've witnessed the same kind of gushing enthusiasm at the completion of almost every opera, ballet and so forth that I've witnessed. While I'm incompetent to evaluate performing arts (unless the joint is stunk out), the statistician in me finds it hard to believe that almost every performance merits such unrestrained enthusiasm. This makes me wonder if a characteristic of large portions of audiences is to applaud wildly no matter how good (or average) the performance was. So I'll chalk it up to a form of behavior for a subculture I'm not a member of. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 16, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Video for the Day: "Singing the Blues"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in the 1950s, Guy Mitchell (born Albert George Cernik in Detroit, the son of Croatian immigrants) sold millions upon millions of records. My dad -- one Guy's fans -- was especially addicted to the following song, and often filled our house with his own whistling-and-crooning performances of it: I love the tune itself -- can a song be more catchy? But I really-really love the performance. Guy's one golden-throated dreamboat, of course, but that Croatian heartiness sets him apart from the other popsters of the day. Small aside: Let me put in a word of appreciation for the skills and the enthusiasm of the silent girl who partners Guy. Who knows what she really thought about her job that day? Hey, one lesson that performers can teach the rest of us: Take whatever the moment offers and turn it into a positive. Read more about Guy Mitchell here. Here's the Guy Mitchell website. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 5, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Swiped Hymns
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- About every other Sunday my wife puts on my collar, attaches the leash, and then we go off to church. (Mind you, I have a good degree of sympathy for Judeo-Christian religion, but tend to drag my heels when it comes to actually attending services.) Hymns are sung in Presbyterian and Lutheran services -- the ones I'm most familiar with. And occasionally some of those hymns have melodies that seem curiously familiar. No, I'm not talking about familiar hymn-melodies such as that of "A Might Fortress is My God." In one instance, I grabbed my wife's hymnal before she closed it after the singing was done and scanned the page for information about the composer. Turned out that the music was by Brahms and I recalled that the theme was from his First Symphony. Now, it's just possible that Brahms might have used the same melody for a hymn as well as the symphony, though I'm inclined to doubt that. Another time, a hymn used Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" melody from the final movement of his Ninth Symphony, but the words definitely weren't Schiller's. Conclusion? Technically, copyrights no longer apply to Brahms and Beethoven. But still ... "Thou shalt not steal." Commandment says so. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 22, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, June 16, 2008

"Toe Jam"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Looks like a fun day on the rock-video set. In these thong-besotted days, the cuteness and sexiness of boy shorts are much underrated. NSFW or SFW, it's up to you. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 16, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Naughty Tunes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yahmdallah celebrates some dirty songs. I'll humbly add this filthy David Allan Coe classic to Yahmdallah's list. If you're at work, use headphones. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 11, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, May 23, 2008

Video for the Day: In-Grid
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a sweet-natured and cute-in-its-own-right celebration of French "ye-ye" pop, one of the most inane (if hard to resist) pop music styles ever. The performer is a contempo Italian pop star who goes by the name In-Grid: Now, there wasn't too much po-mo attitude and mockery in that, was there? In any case, anything that encourages young women to have fun with kooky clothes, great eye makeup, and early Catherine Deneuve hair-dos -- and to perfect some naive-but-sexy go-go moves -- is OK by me. Are you surprised to learn that the Japanese loved ye-ye music too? I don't know about anyone else, but when it comes to watching girls in minis dance, I'm happy to be there for hours. Read about In-Grid here. To sample the real ye-ye thing, search YouTube for "France Gall" and "Sylvie Vartan," two of the most successful of the ye-ye performers. Here's a contemporary band that features some ye-ye stylings. Here's a frighteningly well-informed list of recommended ye-ye recordings, and here's a website devoted entirely to ye-ye music. Be warned: Ye-ye fans these days tend towards the competitively hip and the neo-post-ironic. Doesn't make the music any less cute, though. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 23, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Patty's Website
Michael Blowhards writes: Dear Blowhards -- Star YouTube webcam dancer Patty Mayo now has her own website. (On the tab in my browser it reads "Patty Mayo -- Official Fan Site.") A cute bit from Patty's self-description: Ima small girl barely standin at 5 ft but i love it, im fun sized. Im single and crushin. Just give me a guy who likes me for me..and i'll stop wit this myspace bullshit and just be with him Here's some footage of Patty in action: I don't know about you, but I'm guessing that the level of teenaged booty-shaking virtuosity in the U.S. has skyrocketed since the birth of YouTube. Talk about having a stage. Talk about competitive pressures. Talk about feedback. I ran across Patty thanks to Agnostic, who writes that he can smell the difference between "older" (30ish) women and younger ones; and who -- speaking of "game" -- has come up with some "Facebook game." Best, Michael UPDATE: In the Comments, DOBA recalls a simpler time, or at least a time when he didn't feel quite so horrified by popular culture. It was the era of Cheryl Tiegs:... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (47) comments

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Weekend YouTube Finds
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Speaking of art that lasts ... Did anyone in 1965 think that "Shotgun" (by Jr. Walker and the All-Stars) would still be enjoyed more than 40 years later? Read more about Jr. Walker here. Question: When he was creating "Shotgun," was Jr. Walker aiming for a place in the Western Civ canon? Or was he trying to come up with a way to get an audience dancing? Plus: Sigh, if I only had one-tenth the personal style of Willie Woods, the All-Star's guitar player, I'd do a lot better in life ... Here's another All-Stars track that's bursting with more than its share of funk. * Did you continue watching the clip above? If you got a kick out of the smooth moves of The Temptations, perhaps you might enjoy learning a bit about Cholly Atkins, the man who was Motown's house choreographer during the label's peak years. Yes, that's right: There was one guy who was responsible for giving Motown's stars their gorgeous and influential moves. Is there any way to argue that Cholly Atkins wasn't a major culture-figure? The man choreographed The Temptations, The Miracles, and The Supremes, for God's sake. Forgive me for thinking that Cholly Atkins deserves a place on the same shelf where Jerome ("West Side Story," NYC Ballet) Robbins has already been placed. Back here, I raved about a documentary focusing on the guys who played in Motown's house band. * One of the misleading things that's often said (or unconsciously maintained) about the arts is that they're automatically progressive. To make good art is to be progressive -- that's just how it is. Few fields are more infected with this loony idea than jazz, whose story is often presented as a series of innovators, one after another doing what they could to move the music in the direction of "freedom." Psychotherapeutic and political overtones have most definitely not been run away from. What then to make of a phenomenon from more than 50 years ago: the Dixieland Revival? In the midst of all the "progress," one of the most important developments in jazz from 1940 right through the '50s was a revival of the very earliest jazz styles. Here's one of the most prominent of the Dixieland Revival bands, Eddie Condon's: And don't they swing hard! Though that clip is from 1952, and though that's quality jazz, that most definitely ain't bop. Deal with it, dogmatists. RedHotJazz writes this about Eddie Condon: In 1938 he led some sessions for the Commodore label and he became a star. He had a nightly gig at Nick's in New York City from 1937 to 1944. From 1944 to 1945 he led a series of recordings at Town Hall that were broadcast weekly on the radio. Condon opened his own club in 1945, and recorded for Columbia in the 1950s. In other words, during a period when orthodoxy would have us convinced that what was going on in jazz was... posted by Michael at May 10, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Booty-Shaking 101
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The University of YouTube, Continuing-Ed Dept., brings us a dancing lesson from Prof. James Brown: Good God! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, May 9, 2008

Crew Vs. Crew
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A cool new cultureform -- the YouTube dance-off: challenge, response, response-to-response. Lots of mischievous choreography, sharp-witted direction, cute kids, and hiphop acrobatics. (And that Lacey Schwimmer is one racey Mormon. Vavavoom!) Lots of work for chiropracters and surgeons around five years from now too, I'm guessing. Hey, has anyone else been following Bravo's "Step It Up and Dance"? God, I do love watching dancers. I managed to get through an entire episode and half. That's a new reality-TV-watching record for me. Here's a funny spoof of that Miley Cyrus / Vanity Fair photoshoot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 9, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Shouting Thomas On Sale
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Shouting Thomas goes public with his new CD. Down and dirty cover-band music, baby -- let the party begin. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 8, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gale Garnett, Women and Drama
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's 1964, and Gale Garnett (all of 22 years old) performs "We'll Sing in the Sunshine": Many old hits make me cringe when I revisit them, especially ones that I loved when I was very young. So I'm pleased to find that I still enjoy the dark-toned, easy swing of this song. As I listen to it again, and then again, I find myself returning to its mix of tones: sweet-sour; cheery-depressive -- to the way the singalong folkiness of the tune is stung into life by the iciness of the lyrics: "I will never love you / The cost of love's too dear / But though I'll never love you / I'll stay with you one year". That isn't a cheery view of love, or of life. Gale's big-eyed, Greenwich Village, heavy-spirited, "I'm trouble, but of a kind you owe it to yourself to find out more about" presence adds a lot to the flavors and textures. The song and performance would be easy enough to dismiss as silly -- to find overdone and affected. But there's some startling steeliness and zing alongside the childishness. "Hey," Gale is saying: "So what if what we have isn't the real thing. Let's see what's there in any case. It'll move us in its own way, whatever that'll prove to be." A little pop ditty is sharing with us an almost Edith Piaf-like fatalism, in other words. The cheeriness does nothing to diminish the darkness. I may be out-of-it where contempo pop music is concerned, but it certainly seems to me that you don't find a lot of worldweary fatalism in today's mainstream pop. It's a little startling to realize that this life-is-a-tragedy- but-let's-relish-the-sadness-of-it tune wasn't just a cult hit. In fact, it made it into the top ten. As it turns out -- according to a profile by Canadian journalist and playwright Brad Fraser -- Gale Zoe Garnett has led exactly the kind of life that "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" makes me picture. She lost her virginity at 13 and was orphaned at 15; she feels she was really raised by gay friends. Ups and downs seem to have been numerous; so do lovers. Garnett sounds like she has achieved a lot of hardwon personal style; she certainly has a sexy-weatherbeaten / evasive-blunt way of talking about sex and romance. Fun to see that, like me, she feels that many youngsters would do best to begin their sex lives with lovers much older than they are. "So-called intergenerational sex is actually, if you're going to have sex, a far safer choice, in my mind, than peer sex," she tells Fraser. If Gale Garnett ain't a genuine bohemian, than I don't know who is. Here's a novel that she wrote. I notice that the book's girl-protagonist begins her sex life at the age of 13. It occurred to me as I read Fraser's article that I once saw and enjoyed a Brad Fraser play. "Unidentified... posted by Michael at April 16, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stones Memories
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Charlie Watts tells Bob Costas that he didn't expect the Rolling Stones to last longer than a week. Keith Richards tells GQ that working with Jean-Luc Godard on "Sympathy for the Devil" was "like working with a French bank clerk." Semi-related: I wrote about a tedious but rather touching recent Godard movie here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 15, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, April 4, 2008

More Good Texas Listening
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Running across wonderful culturestuff just makes a person want to share, you know what I mean? First up: Hayes Carll and friends doing his irresistable "It's a Shame": "It's a shame / We ain't lovers ..." -- seriously, that's some brilliant lyric-writing: conversational, sly, affable, deadpan-yet-poetic ... Next: Lyle Lovett doing his eerily lyrical "If I Had a Boat": Can someone help me here? Is what Lyle does with this song postmodern and flip? Or religious and beautiful? Here's Hayes Carll's MyTurn page, where you can sample more of his music and check his touring schedule. (Don't miss his raucous "She Left Me for Jesus.") It was thanks to Scott Chaffin that I learned about Hayes Carll in the first place. Here's Lyle Lovett's website. I linked back here to a fab video of legendary alt-shitkicker Ray Wylie Hubbard. Early on I rhapsodized about bar-band genius Delbert McClinton and blues immortal T-Bone Walker. And my enthusiasm for that melancholic bard Townes Van Zandt is all over this blog. Speaking of which ... Has anyone got a plausible explanation for why it is that Texas produces so much great music? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 4, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, April 3, 2008

"I Don't Love You Much"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Just because I've been listening to this beautiful performance over and over for the last 30 minutes: Here's Emmylou Harris' website. I wrote about Emmylou back here. Here's Guy Clark's website. Newbies to Guy: I suggest starting with this amazing (and bargain-priced) CD, or maybe this one. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 3, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rachel Sweet
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a 1981 clip of Rachel Sweet: Lordy, did I find Rachel Sweet entertaining. The mocking feistiness. The big-personality-in-a-tiny-body. The belter's voice. The glamorpuss bursting through a plain-Jane framework ... A quick word of explanation: Growing up in Akron, Ohio, Rachel Sweet was one of those kids who was a born performer. (As I like to ask: Can anyone come up with a good scientific reason why these people should be among us? Yet they keep turning up, generation after generation ...) As a kid Rachel took part in competitions; she toured with Mickey Rooney; she sang jingles. At 12, she opened in Vegas for Bill Cosby; at 13, she released her first single. As a pint-sized solo performer, she started out doing country music, but country didn't catch fire for her. At the time -- the late '70s -- there was a punk-rock moment happening in Akron; it was similar to the moments that Seattle and Portland experienced during the grunge years. Rachel laid down some tracks with local punk musicians and placed a couple of them on a Stiff Records compilation of the Akron Sound. (Really-truly, there was something called "the Akron Sound." Isn't that great? All regions should develop their own pop-music sound.) These tracks landed her a contract with Stiff, and "Fool Around," Rachel's first album, was released in 1978. Rachel was all of 15 years old. "B-A-B-Y" was everyone's favorite song on the disc: Beyond the fun of the music and of Rachel's look and performances, there were worries. Stiff Records -- and Rachel herself -- were obviously marketing Rachel as a little sexpot. Given her age, were we being subjected to (gasp) kiddie porn? In its way, the scandal echo'd another from a few years earlier. Tanya Tucker was 13 at the time of "Delta Dawn" and "What's Your Mama's Name?", and was a mere 14 when she recorded "Would You Lay With Me?" And of course the Rachel Sweet scandal prefigured a later one: Britney Spears, who was a relatively old lady of 18 at the time that "Baby One More Time" was released. When you watch these performances you can't help wondering, "Where did all this sexual oomph and erotic knowingness in such a young girl come from?" Me? Well, having known what it's like to have a headful of naughty thoughts since the age of 12, I wasn't exactly looking hard for an answer. Besides: Girls, eh? They're gonna act out. They just are. (I grew up with a sexy and popular older sister. By the time I was 14, I was pretty familiar with the whole blonde, buxom, cheerleading thing.) But more responsible people than I couldn't help fretting: "Is it an indictment of our society 1) that these girls exist and 2) that we should enjoy watching and listening to them?" Despite a lot of sympathetic press and a devoted fanbase, Rachel Sweet wound up having a nice but limited career as a... posted by Michael at March 28, 2008 | perma-link | (50) comments

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"The Lady Is A Tramp"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Time to class the joint up a little bit. OK, a whole lot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 27, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Brenda, Buck, and Don
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of vids for no reason other than the joy that I'm feelin' in posting them. Brenda Lee (all 4 feet 7 seven inches of her) sets fire to some Hank Williams: Talk about pipes; talk about lungs; talk about energy -- you can certainly see why they called her "Little Miss Dynamite"! Let's face it: Some people were just born to be performers. But why (in an evo-bio sense) should that even be so? Here's Brenda Lee's website. Buck Owens and his buddy Don Rich do "Love's Gonna Live Here Again": Though Buck is often said to be the pioneer of the Bakersfield Sound (think: masculine, outgoing, rhythmic -- a working guy's cut-to-the-action rebuke to sappy Nashville), he always credited Don Rich as his co-conspirator. Buck may have been the Buckaroos' front man, but Don was every bit the creative force Buck was. (Don's "chicken-pickin" guitar sound has made quite an impact.) You can see them as co-equals in the video, no? Not many vocalists share the mic in quite as welcoming a fashion as Buck does with Don. In fact, Buck and Don were in day-to-day life best friends. Don Rich's death -- at 32, in a motorcycle accident -- threw Buck into a deep depression, and Buck often said that music was never again as much fun for him. Here's a website devoted to the Bakersfield Sound. With thanks once again to essential YouTube uploader Gatorrock786. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 19, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, March 14, 2008

Weekend Music: Gang of Four
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Sadly for me, one of the punk bands that's least-well represented on YouTube is one of my favorites, the snarly English dance band Gang of Four. The videos that are available do a crappy job of conveying how fiery and exciting their music and shows were. Still, why should that stand in the way of a blogposting? A quick word about the group. One of the first of the "post-punk" bands, the Leeds-based Gang of Four blew onto the scene with a distinctive sound, a slashing and confident attack, and two really fabulous records, "Entertainment!" and "Solid Gold." They caught a downer of a mood. Big cities were falling apart, debt was everywhere, the '70s were grinding to an end, New York City had declared bankruptcy, squatters were taking over abandoned buildings ... It could feel some days like Western Civ was flailing, perhaps even on the verge of an apocalyptic turning point. Well, it could if you were a highly-reactive, imaginative, urban kid, anyway. Punk rock generally was implicitly a response to all this -- a black-hearted, dancing-on-the-cinders moment of reveling in the absurdity of it all, a reaction against both the bloat of what had become of Boomer rock and the sappiness of disco. What Gang of Four did was take the righteous-apocalyptic element that was implicit in much punk rock and foreground it. But enough with the blah-blah, let's cut to the music: It's party music -- only it's ghoulish, cackling, and strident party music. Too bad that video trails off at the end. In fact, Gang of Four (who are said to have taken their name not from the Chinese Communist politicians but from the Big Four of French structuralism) were political as hell, if in a snot-nosed-kid kind of way. They were Situationists, basically. (Read up here on Situationism, one of the kookier yet more influential radical movements of the last 50 years. I sort of like Situationism myself.) Can you hear and see the Situationism? Funnily enough, I can. I could at the time too. Here are two of the giveaways: The dancing. It's a bit of Devo, a little David Byrne, and distinctively hideous in its own right. Think: theory, confrontation, and attack. Think "pop culture is turning us into spastic robots -- yet even that has its own addictive high. We're electro-zombies who have been gutted of our humanity. Yet we're lovin' it." Those are some of the arguments that Situationism makes about how pop culture works. And that tactic -- taking the strategies of popular culture and turning them back on themselves -- is known as "detournement." It's a classic Situationist art-agitation strategy. The way the music mixes aggression and dissonance with funky danceability. Noise and feedback were big at the time. There were bands that were actual "noise bands," and there were composers around (such as Glenn Branca) who made ambitious entertainments out of chunks of electronic noise, arranging big masses of deafeningness like... posted by Michael at March 14, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Random Video Finds
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The only reason these two clips are making an appearance in the same posting is that I ran across both of them for the first time today. Standup comedian Demetri Martin has a silly-ingenuous schtick going on that's pretty irresistable: Demetri Martin Stand Up Presentation on For me, the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing" was 96 minutes and 15 seconds of cringe-making drivel inexplicably interrupted by 3 minutes and 45 seconds of bliss. Here's the bliss part: What a gorgeous depiction of a proper girl discovering how sweet wantonness can be. A big hat-tip to the dancers and actors, to director Emile Ardolino, to choreogapher Kenny Ortega, and to The Contours for their version of "Do You Love Me?" Just one big "But": Man oh man, why wasn't I invited to that party? OK, so I also enjoyed watching Jennifer Grey go around in those just-longer-than-knee-length blue jeans and white tennis sneakers ... Fashion at its best, no? Fun Facts for the Day: "Dirty Dancing" was the first movie to sell a million copies on video. And the song "Do You Love Me?" was written by Motown CEO Berry Gordy, Jr. I wrote about Motown's immortal Funk Brothers back here. Best, Michael UPDATE: I'm sorry to learn this morning that Patrick Swayze -- who is only 55 -- is fighting pancreatic cancer. That's one of the toughest cancers to do battle with.... posted by Michael at March 5, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, February 22, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Or iSpaceOut, at least. Which ain't nothing. Presenting the world's first iPhone band: Is that a Nintendo DS on rhythm? Fact for the day: "Google has found that iPhone users make 50 times more web searches compared with any other mobile." Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 22, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some of the most undersung contemporary culture-heroes -- IMHO, of course -- are YouTube music-video uploaders. Just think of it: At no previous time in all history have we had anything like this kind of easy access to such a wealth of fabulous music performances. And we owe it to the voluntary efforts of a lot of amateurs, motivated by love, generosity and enthusiasm. It's enough to make a person believe in anarchist theory. (Incidentally, that's a first-class essay.) A few of the uploaders I rely on most heavily: rockabilly buff Gatorrock786; country-music lover Genewatsonfan2; Rolling Stones champion Ghostryder4067; StAlphege, surely in the top tier of the world's Emmylou Harris admirers; and the classical-music connoisseurs Judicaelp and Tbromley. Here's some footage of the legendary Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli playing Chopin: And a clip of the brilliant Maurizio Pollini performing Debussy: Pollini's Chopin is a modern legend in its own right, and there's a lot of it on YouTube. Here's one good example. A couple of recent discoveries have also been making me very, very happy. Oldtimer (456 vids uploaded so far -- imagine the time and effort!) Ultracoolsixties has an eclectic collection of '60s pop music clips that must be peerless -- it includes performances by Marianne Faithful, The Byrds, Francoise Hardy, and a longtime fave of mine, the high-octane, midwestern R&B group Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels: And doesn't that take you back to the glory days of AM radio! When I'm the mood for workingman's rock, I'll take Mitch Ryder and the boys over Bruce Springsteen any day -- in my value-set, raucous party spirit always prevails over mythos and bloat. Here's Mitch Ryder's website Why not spring for this best-of collection? Newcomer Musicfirstlove has been sharing a priceless collection of alt-country clips, including many I hadn't even known existed of someone I never tire of going back to, the angelically-gifted Texas depressive Townes Van Zandt: Well-synch'd-up-with-its-sound or not, that's some precious footage. I wrote -- OK, I raved -- about Townes Van Zandt back here. Here's the Townes Van Zandt website, run by his widow Jeanene. Jeanene sent 2Blowhards a very moving letter that we were honored to reprint here. Buy a copy of "Be Here to Love Me," Margaret Brown's evocative and poetic documentary about Townes, here. Do you have some favorite YouTube uploaders that you can pass along to the rest of us? It seems to me that the urge to share our pleasures is a lot of what makes the Web the glorious place it is. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 17, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, February 15, 2008

Whitepeople Funk
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In recognition of Stuff White People Like Day, let me offer a little YouTube-ishness: Does it make me hyper-white to admit that I find "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" genuinely funky? Read about Wild Cherry, who never did score another hit. Bandleader Rob Parissi tells the story of his one-hit band here. Fun to learn that the band originated in Mingo Junction, Ohio. As I often say: America, land of the greatest place-names ever. Tapping my lily-white toesies happily, Michael UPDATE: My favorite response to the White People blog came from Brooklyn dude The Rawness, writing at Roissy's place: I think sarcasm should go under annoying stuff white people like. White people today think sarcasm, which is just really passive aggressive behavior for wimps who want to insult someone but wants the option of being able to pretend they were joking just in case the offended person wants to fight. White people reward sarcasm to ridiculous degrees. Even their comedy…Colbert Show and Daily Show are nothing but two guy being sarcastic…that is, just saying the opposite of what they really mean in a smug, condescending way…and they get hailed with words like “genius” “powerful” “thought provoking,” “speaking truth to power” “provocative”…’s FUCKING SARCASM. My 13 year old niece and her friends do it all day. It’s not a sign of comedic genius, and it’s really unattractive on fey, liberal, middle aged white men. Eat some red meat and grow some balls. The Rawness ain't no colorfree metrosexual, that's for sure.... posted by Michael at February 15, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nikos on Deletaille
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Barry Wood isn't the only person who has been listening to music and searching YouTube for music vids recently. Nikos Salingaros has been making some finds too. *** NICOLAS DELETAILLE, A GREAT YOUNG CELLIST FOR OUR TIMES By Nikos A. Salingaros Just as I was trying to decide which one of two recent recordings of the Bach Suites for unaccompanied cello to buy -- by Steven Isserlis (Britain) or by Jean-Guihen Queyras (France) -- out of the blue I discovered the brilliant young Belgian cellist Nicolas Deletaille. So, naturally I bought his recording (aussi parce que ma femme est belge)! Geographically, this choice makes perfect sense, since Belgium is half-way between Britain and France ... Deletaille records on the small Contréclisse label in Belgium. Doubtlessly, these are available in CD stores in Europe, but here in the US we are fortunate that Deletaille's recordings are distributed by CD Baby. I recommend that readers not wait to read the rest of this review, but immediately order the two available double CD sets: the Bach Cello Suites and the Beethoven Cello Sonatas. There is something profoundly correct about Deletaille's playing -- emotional intensity, virtuosity, and perfection without ever becoming either mechanical or introverted. Total concentration in the service of the music itself and the composer. You do have to be careful in these days of self-indulgent virtuosos, or even worse, those "modern" interpretations that sap all the life out of the notes in a misguided attempt at "virtuosic impartiality". None of that here -- it's just a pure pleasure to hear someone playing for the sheer joy of playing! Deletaille's Bach CD came out in 2006, and his Beethoven CD, accompanied by the excellent pianist Jean-Michel Dayez, in 2007. The Bach suites I rate with the best ever interpreters: Casals, Rostropovich, Fournier, etc. His Beethoven sonatas are exquisite, again ranking with the classic recordings by Casals/Serkin, Rostropovich/Richter, and Fournier/Gulda. The only quibble I have is that the great Fugue that concludes Sonata No. 5 (Opus 102 No. 2) is not as deliberately paced as the interpretation of Fournier/Gulda, presented in this new recording as a very different though equally correct interpretation. But Deletaille/Dayez make it work within the context of their own vision of the whole sonata. Still, I would consider this a compliment rather than a criticism to be compared to Pierre Fournier and Friedrich Gulda. Deletaille's Bach is fast-paced, but does not sound fast. Incredible virtuosity that presents the music at a speed that seems just right. Only when I compared his timings to other favorite recordings I realized that this is a great technical feat. Note that Deletaille uses a "Violoncello Piccolo" built in Belgium in 2002 for the Sixth suite -- attention to the music and the composer's intentions (which are here unclear!). Bach's Sixth suite is always a problem to perform since Bach did not write it for a normal cello. View and hear Nicolas Deletaille playing the Prelude from Bach's... posted by Michael at February 12, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Prog-Rock Linkage by Barry Wood
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I received a fun and informative email from rock fan Barry Wood the other day. It was so full of good info and resourceful linkage that I couldn't resist asking Barry if I could post it on the blog. I'm pleased that he agreed to let me. Here it is: *** Dear Michael Blowhard I’ve found a terrific way of enjoying YouTube. I’m a big fan of sixties and seventies rock music and there are a few personal websites which enthusiasts have set up to which they devote themselves to charting band history, analysing the music and rating the various albums. You have to be pretty devoted to do this but the quality of the best of it is surprisingly high. Foremost among these is George Starostin who must rank as one of the most astonishing web rock critics not just because of the superlative quality of his reviews and insights but also because he was so prolific. Sadly George stopped posting a few years back but his huge archive is still up and has a kind of cult quality among many fans, myself included. Here it is. The fun bit is in reading about the birth of some band you didn’t know about on Starostin then going over to YouTube and summonsing up archive footage. You can see a band’s entire development this way and some terrific material has come to light. The history of David Bowie on Youtube is fascinating. The earliest clip of him dates from 1964 when as a 17 year old schoolboy he appeared on the BBC complaining about being teased for having long hair. His first single at age seventeen after he changed his name from Jones to Bowie (audio only) First appearance with his first hit Space Oddity in 1970: Bowie singing "Rubber Band": Bowie mime from 1968 when he was 21: A 14 year old skiffle enthusiast from the London suburbs appears on black and white TV in the late fifties. Hard to believe that this lad grew up to be Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin: King Crimson also have a long and tortured past which Starostin documents well with the faithfulness of the true devoted fan. You can map out the King Crimson from their hippy precursor called Giles, Giles and Fripp: To their first big success in 1969 with Court of the Crimson King which can be heard here, and here. More: In 1970 came In The Wake Of Poseidon. With the big success of Larks Tongues in Aspic in 1973: The YouTube collection on them features an interview with the King Crimson leader Bob Fripp which has got to be the most unintentionally funny TV interviews ever carried out outside of Spinal Tap. It is both comedy and rock gold. It is four parts beginning here. Doesn’t get really funny till part two. Interested in Marc Bolan and T Rex.? As you might expect there is plenty of clips on this British glam... posted by Michael at February 12, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Silliness for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As wholesome as can be ... Sweet Jesus: Did nobody on the crew know what the song was really about? Link thanks to Boing Boing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 6, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, February 4, 2008

I Caught Maybellene At the Top of the Hill
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 1965. France. And Chuck Berry was in an especially exuberant mood: Have there been many greater lines written in America than "Rainwater flowin' all under my hood / But I knew that was doin' my motor good"? OK, maybe "As I was a-motor-vatin' over the hill / I saw Maybellene in a Coupe de Ville." But not many others. It seems to me that Chuck Berry's wordplay and rhythms have done a lot to shape American English. Hard to believe that Chuck Berry is now 81 years old. He's wearing it awfully well. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, February 1, 2008

It's Time For Some Music!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Paying too much attention to politics makes me kompletely krazy. It makes me feel the need to ... to ... Well, goshdarnit, to do some semi-random YouTube music-linkage. First up, The Marvelettes, who are the easy winners of today's Cute, Sweet, and Sexy Award: The Marvelettes started out life in rural Inkster, Michigan. America: land of the best place-names ever! Read more about the Marvelettes here. Although The Clash sometimes leave me thinking that they're striving a little harder for "passionate and committed" than they need to, this live performance of "I Fought the Law" has real sizzle: It's 1977 forever, baby! Plus, 2:21 seconds is such a nice length for a rock song, isn't it? And doesn't Eddie Cochran show a lot of easygoing cocky charisma in this version of "C'mon Everybody"? Sing it together, people: "Whoo! C'mon everybody: We gotta keep the politics in perspective ..." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Britney, the Ballet
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- People are really quick to pounce on subjects these days, aren't they? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mississippi Blues, Courtesy of YouTube
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just realized that you can create yourself a decent intro to the Mississippi Delta Blues by typing the right names into the YouTube Search box. Here are a few clips to get you started. R.L. Burnside T-Model Ford Cedell Davis Junior Kimbrough And here's Pinetop Perkins at 94: Big personalities, raw sounds, mind-and-ear-bending music ... Semi-related: I blogged about Mandy Stein's good Mississippi blues documentary "You Hear Me Laughin'" here. I wrote about taking the Wife to the King Biscuit Blues Festival here and here. Explore the website of the great Fat Possum Records. I'm especially fond of this one-of-a-kind Asie Payton disc. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 28, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, January 25, 2008

Jon and The Nicholas Brothers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Speaking of Tumblr blogs ... Jon Hastings has been having a most excellent time with his new Tumblr blog. The highlights of Jon's Tumblr efforts, as far as I'm concerned, have been links to performances by the Nicholas Brothers: here, here, here. What's that? You say you don't know the Nicholas Brothers? Can that really be so? Then it's high time you made the acquaintance of Harold and Fayard Nicholas, a dancing-brothers team who started out as child performers in the vaudeville years, appeared regularly at the Cotton Club, were headliners in movies, and were still creative and active into the 1990s. (Harold died in 2000, Fayard in 2006.) Michael Jackson is one of many younger dancers who learned from the Nicholas Brothers, and Harold and Fayard are gods of the current tapdance-revival scene. Their work is known not just for its style, its class, and its acrobatic virtuosity -- watch those trademark leaping splits! -- but also for its high spirits, its humor, and its exuberance. It has got to be some of the happy-making-est art ever. The Nicholas Brothers were (as far as I'm concerned) Genuinely Great American Artists, and were certainly in a class with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly -- with the very best popular American dancers ever. (Jon also linked to a priceless scene of Tommy Rall and Bob Fosse dancing together. Rall is really something, isn't he? A friend of mine studied tapdancing with Rall in college; she tells me that he was a dynamite teacher. And Fosse: Now there's another Great American artist ...) One of the highlights of my own culture-spectating life was attending a tribute to the Nicholas Brothers around 1990. The brothers themselves appeared in person after an hour's worth of dance clips had left many in the audience sniffling tears of happiness. Seldom have I applauded with such heartfelt enthusiasm as I did when the Brothers stepped before us in the flesh. It's amazing that one act can have given so many people such a great deal of pleasure. Read more about the Nicholas Brothers here. Here's an especially good-quality version of their legendary number from the 1943 film "Stormy Weather." Speaking of happy-making performers, dig that wonderful Cab Calloway. Has American culture hit many peaks as glorious as the Big Band years? Hey, I just remembered that I can embed the clip myself. Here we go: If you're tempted by blogging, do consider signing up for a Tumblr blog. Tumblr-style blogging is an awful lot of fun. I wrote back here and here about some more happy-making art. Thanks to Jon Hastings. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 25, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Surrealized Schmaltz-Bot
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Arts & Letters Daily scores again, tickling my linkage fancy with this New York Magazine book review by Sam Anderson. Early in the review which deals with a book about singer Céline Dion, Anderson lets loose with the following: Dion is the Antichrist of the indie sensibility, an overemoting schmaltz-bot who has somehow managed to convert the ethos of Wal-Mart into sine waves and broadcast them, at kidney-rupturingly high volume, directly into our internal soulPods. A book pondering the aesthetics of Céline risks going wrong in about 3,000 different ways. Most obviously, it could degenerate into one of those irritating hipster projects of strategic kitsch-retrieval, an ironic exercise in taste as anti-taste in which an uncool phenomenon is hoisted onto a pedestal of cool simply as a display of contrarian muscle power. The rest of the piece is more sympathetic. My interest has nothing to do with the book. It concerns Dion's long-running show that recently concluded its stay at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and its Cirque du Soleil-style staging. As long as I'm in stage-setting mode, let me mention that I lost interest in pop music in all its forms many, many years ago. Yes, I hear it now and then, and scanning newspapers, magazine and the web lets me know names of performers and groups even though I usually don't know what they or their songs sound like. Nevertheless, I knew who Dion was because her hit song from the movie Titanic was unavoidable at the hight of its popularity. My wife Nancy is a Dion fan so, in November 2003, we took in Céline's show at Caesar's. She was disappointed. It's possible that the show evolved and was different in its closing months from what we witnessed when it was about a year old. Regardless, all I can do is report what I saw. And what I saw was a fish out of water. Dion would have been better served if she had performed in a more intimate setting than the cavernous hall attached to the casino. An audience of, say, 350 people, a piano on stage for her to lean against from time to time and a backup quintet (much like the Tony Bennett performance we saw in November) would have worked better. Instead, here was poor Céline on the huge stage, firmly planting her feet, twisting her torso and making those raised-arm gestures that are supposed to indicate that the singer is feeling powerful emotions. Poor lady: she seemed to lack the dancer-gene and her physicality was more pathetic than inspiring. The staging by Cirque du Soleil alumnus Franco Dragone was even harder for Nancy to take. Besides the apparently mandatory Chaplinesque characters who repeatedly wander across the stage -- to provide "continuity"(?) -- in many Cirque performances, there were surrealistic effects such as a grand piano, bench and pianist slowly sailing across the stage a dozen feet or so above the floor. I suppose someone must have... posted by Donald at December 19, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Here Comes Another Bubble
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's bewildering enough to be a 50-something media-and-arts guy living through the changeover we're undergoing from an analogue-based to a digital-based culture. God knows I've had moments when I've felt like a buggywhip specialist watching Henry Ford's business explode. Oops, there goes the whole basis of my commercial life. Such as it is, of course. But I've also spent a few minutes wondering what it must be like to be a youngster these land-rush / gold-rush days. Great new tools and toys ... Fantastic opportunities ... But is it in fact all that much fun? A few lucky and/ or brilliant people hit it rich by 30 ... Fads and paradigms are forever erupting and popping ... Everyone's so relentlessly career-obsessed ... You're a loser if you don't have a clever idea and cash out at the exact best moment ... Living through early adulthood these days must sometimes feel like blundering your way through a cyclone, no? Lordy, what a lot of pressure and anxiety not to be left behind. Talk about needing to play aggressive offense just to stay even. Anyway, here's a funny evocation of the rattled and frantic "Omigod, why aren't I a billionaire yet?" mindset that the air seems so full of these days: Best, as well as pleased -- for the moment at least -- to be over that particular hill, Michael... posted by Michael at December 5, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris give a lesson in "how to do it so understated and sweet that it hurts": The casual, loving, dignified, lifted-out-of-time openness of that performance reminds me of Robert Altman's wonderful film "A Prairie Home Companion," which I wrote about here. I linked to a few more duets with Emmylou back here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 4, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Happy Music
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Two fab contributions from wonderful YouTube uploader Gatorrock786. A young Ray Charles performs a roof-raising "What'd I Say?": Goodness gracious: Did that man ever command a lot of sexual power. And weren't those go-go dancers doing an awfully fine job? Ricky Nelson keeps things swinging in a cornier, mellower, yet still toe-tapping way with "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" (Backup singing by -- yes! -- The Four Preps.) I do love a lot of easygoing, bland-o, whitebread, 1960ish crooning ... Was Ricky Nelson the Bing Crosby of '50s teenyboppers? Here's the Ricky Nelson website, and here's Wikipedia reports that one of the Four Preps went on to write the song "Tainted Love," and that another Prep created the TV show "Battlestar Gallactica." Best, Michael COMPLETELY UNRELATED: Don't miss the wrasslin' match over at Marginal Revolution.... posted by Michael at November 29, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, November 26, 2007

Staging Opera
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I know next to nothing about opera. I know next to nothing about music, as my four years as a lazy grade school and junior high school band zillionth-chair clarinet player attest. Therefore, no one can truthfully accuse me of being an Opera Snob ... though I am more vulnerable to being tagged as a blowhard for some obscure reason. Nevertheless, I'm here to pontificate on the staging of opera -- from a near-Everyman perspective. So read on or tune out: your pick. ... Hmm ... anyone still around? My pathetic accumulation of experience is as follows: At the top end, I saw Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" at the San Francisco Opera in 1982. From 2003 into 2006 I saw several operas performed down the bay in San Jose. A year or two ago I saw a partly-staged Beethoven "Fidelio" at the San Francisco Symphony. Early this fall I saw Wagner's "Flying Dutchman" at the Seattle Opera. Most recently, in Rome, at the All Saints church (Anglican) on the Via del Babuino a few blocks northwest of the Spanish Steps, I saw an unstaged version of "La Traviata." The San Francisco Opera performance was the full deal. Large, purpose-built opera house with terrace upon terrace of seating. Elaborate sets with gauzy effects to evoke Spain's Mediterranean climate. No sub-titles. In the film "Amadeus" Emperor Joseph II complained that "Marriage of Figaro" was too long: he was right. Seattle's opera house was drastically refurbished recently. While it lacks the grandeur of San Francisco's, it has plenty of room for fancy staging. The first couple of years I saw San Jose performances, the operas were staged in a seriously small theater that limited the amount of scenery that could be deployed, so the contrast to San Francisco was considerable on most dimensions. At least they had English subtitles (as did Seattle) which I find to be a great help even though I have a smattering of knowledge of German, French and Italian. About two seasons ago the San Jose company moved to a renovated movie theater that provided a lot more seating plus a larger stage for more elaborate sets. The partly-staged "Fidelio" was performed in the hall where the San Francisco Symphony plays. So there was no stage, no curtains -- just a few platforms at different levels where the cast could move about to a limited degree. The Roman opera was, of course, basically a church setting for the audience. We sat on wooden folding chairs. A 15-20 piece orchestra (which performed well once it got over some raggedness during the overture) was also on the main floor of the church, in front of us. Ditto the singers for the most part, though they were sometimes able to take advantage of raised areas near the altar. The "Traviata" performers used a few props and moved around a little -- so it wasn't a static recital. In theory, opera is supposed to be a multi-pronged... posted by Donald at November 26, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mystery Solved
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Great song, of course. But, as people have been wondering for generations now: What the hell are those lyrics about? Now we know. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 20, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Older, Younger, Texan
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ray Wylie Hubbard, grizzled offbeat Texas mega-talent: If my ears are to be trusted, "Snake Farm" is a sinister, comic, and lusty mixture of blues, country, and swamp pop. Another Texas singer-songwriter whose work I've been enjoying recently is an alt-country youngster named Hayes Carll. You can listen to four terrific live tracks of Hayes' on his MySpace page. "Wastrel" seems like an apt word to apply to Hayes Carll, doesn't it? I'm finding that "It's a Shame" is seizing hold of my brain in the same way that Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" once did, and thanks to a similar combo of infantile catchiness, sweetness cut with melancholy, and poetry. Besides, the song's refrain -- "It's a shame / we ain't lovers" ... I mean, those are words that have been touched by genius. There's a goodly amount of Hayes Carll to be enjoyed by typing his name into the Search box at YouTube as well. Here are the lyrics for "It's a Shame." It sometimes seems like Being Texan can be an awfully fun and rewarding vocation, doesn't it? My all-things-Texas gurus are Scott Chaffin and Cowtown Pattie, both of them big-hearted bloggers with superb taste in Texas music. And no, since you asked, I most definitely did not record a copy of those Hayes Carll tracks for myself using Rogue Amoeba's convenient and easy-to-use program Audio Hijack. No sirree, no way. I'm shocked you'd even think I might do such a thing. Semi-related: I've linked before to some other memorable Texas music and musicians: Townes Van Zandt, T-Bone Walker, Guy Clark (performing with the beautiful Karen Matheson), Lightnin Hopkins, Delbert McClinton. That's a lot of grit, personality, and soul, baby! Here's a posting about Van Morrison. Speaking of Texas ... Here's the weirdly compelling Lyle Lovett doing his beautiful "If I Had A Boat." And here's Jimmie Dale Gilmore singing a moving version of Townes Van Zandt's "Buckskin Stallion Blues." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 15, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Note From Jeanene Van Zandt
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've written numerous times about the late Texas folksinger Townes Van Zandt, one of my very favorite artists. My biggest posting about him is here. The other day I received an email from Townes' widow, Jeanene Van Zandt. Since I was very moved by her reflections and her memories, I asked her if I could reprint her email to me as a blogposting in its own right. I'm pleased that Jeanene has agreed to let me do that. Here it is: It has been almost 2 years since Michael wrote this beautiful piece on Townes and Margaret Brown's documentary "Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt." A Google Alert led me to it. It moved me. It made me cry. I have been reading the remarks with a lot of interest, especially the ones that say they do not want to hear Townes’ music because he was a “bad man”. I am hoping that with this post I might change your minds. By now, the film is out on DVD. I am the girl in the story who asked God to "Please, don't let this be HIM!" However, the answer came back to me Loud & Clear, that it was "HIM". I knew that God wanted me to care for this man, His poet servant, and that our souls had known each other forever. You just cannot argue with that kind of stuff! We were perfectly suited for each other. Where he was weak, I was strong. Where I was dumb, he was brilliant. We loved all the same things and believed the same things. Yes he was difficult when he was drinking, but when you really love someone, it’s for better or worse. Townes used to say to me, “My soul loves your soul, and your soul loves mine. We’re just being taken along for the ride and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it!” I used to ask God all the time, “Why me? Why did you pick me?” I don’t ask that any more. I understand now. I do not regret one single moment I spent with Townes, and I spent 15 years with him. When the times were good and we were alone, no other woman felt so loved. I coped with the bad times by dividing Townes in half, Good Townes & Bad Townes. I just loved Good Townes so much that Bad Townes just couldn’t do enough to kill that. I have to agree with God. We were meant to be together. He needed me. He is gone, but I am still here with God whispering in my ear … Do not Stop. Never Stop. Do Everything you can do so that all people will hear these songs that I had my faithful poet servant write as on ode to me. And I never will. People need these songs. They have healing powers. You NEED to hear them. If I can... posted by Michael at November 8, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Karaoke Smackdown
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Champ. The Challenger. Wait! What's that I see? There's another challenger! The world seems to be swarming with inventive and cute teens, some of whom have lips like Scarlett Johansson's. Read about the Back Dorm Boys on Wikipedia. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Music-Is-a- Strange-Career Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Sam the Sham, who earned rock immortality for the 1965 "Wooly Bully" and the 1966 "Little Red Riding Hood," these days works as a motivational speaker. * Former Go-Go's lead singer Belinda Carlisle now lives in the South of France and has a new chanteuse-cabaret CD out -- sung all in French. She's amusingly frank about her days of debauchery as a rock star. Despite their sweet partygirl image, the Go-Go's were evidently determined to out-do da boyz in da bad-behavior department. The house the bandmates shared was the site of so much lewd wantonness that it came to be known as "Disgraceland." On her way back from multiple addictions, Belinda was at one time attending Overeaters Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous simultaneously. * In his new memoir, Eric Clapton reveals that heroin left him not just uninterested in sex but constipated. Excerpt here. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about the Pogues' defiantly self-destructive (yet indestructible) Shane MacGowan here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 18, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"Absinthe" 1: Performers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of days ago The Wife and I attended a performance called "Absinthe" at Spiegelworld, a touring circus group that had set their tent up at Manhattan's South Street Seaport. In fact -- and despite the tent and the ringmaster -- "Absinthe" wasn't a circus performance at all, at least not in the usual three-ring, elephants-and-tigers, clowns-shot-out-of-a-cannon sense. It was instead ... a show. For adults. This was one evening that was definitely not meant for the kiddies. Full of bawdy language, sleazy glamor, campy drag performances, and outrageously filthy jokes, "Absinthe" featured ghoulish and obscene pranks, as well as some all-but-the-cork nudity. Yeah, baby. It'd probably be fair to describe the show as part burlesque and part cabaret, with a few circus elements mixed in too. You've seen the movie "Cabaret"? (If you haven't: Do!) Well, "Absinthe" was far, far closer to the decadent and lewd shows put on in the KitKat Klub than it was to Barnum & Bailey. It was loads of lowdown fun. I think I laughed loudest during a parody number spoofing the artsy pretentions of Cirque du Soleil. I've never even been to a Cirque de Soleil show, yet I was wiping laughter-tears away anyway. "Absinthe" was also an interesting show in an art-anthropology sense. For one thing, I was fascinated by how small-scale it was. There were no more than 10 performers in the entire show, and a mere 350 people in the audience. The "ring" in which most of the acts were performed didn't measure a dozen feet across. Very cool to be part of such an event. For another thing, I was surprised by how much the tent itself was a major part of the show. Outside was a casual beer-garden-like space. Inside, all was opulent-tacky beauty, full of wood, antique colors, and sexy mirrors, like something painted and lit by Toulouse-Lautrec. You can see the interior of the Spiegeltent here. Although I took my surroundings in and enjoyed them, I'm afraid that I could have done a better job of it. I didn't fully appreciate the tent until I researched the topic of "Spiegeltents" online after seeing the show. Spiegeltents turn out to be extraordinary cultural creations in their own right: showbiz and architecture melded into one spatial-material thingamajig. Hmm: I'll remember to be more aware of this the next time I go to one of these shows. Not for the first time do I feel sorry that my knowledge of circus lore and circus history is as beyond-thin as it is. I have so many questions. I'd especially love to know how the circus-circuit works. Who books 'em? How many weeks a year are they on the road? Do subsidies play a major role in today's circus economics? And I'd love to know how revues like "Absinthe" get cast and developed. Is a conventional director-figure involved? Are the various acts allowed to do entirely what they please so long as they stay... posted by Michael at October 3, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

DarkoV Recommends Some Richard Thompson
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I linked to a Richard Thompson performance that I'm fond of. DarkoV -- who knows Richard Thompson's work a lot better than I do (and who blogs here) -- left a recommendation-rich comment on the posting that I can't resist highlighting. Here it is: Mr. Thompson's been a favorite of mine since the early days of Fairport Convention and he only improved once he went on his own with his then wife, Linda. But, though an avid fan for a long, long time I am not a fan of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and as an apostle of Mr. Thompson, I never recommend this song. First couple of times? Great. But after that? Grating. I'd recommend I Misunderstood, Wall of Death, the humor of Tear Stained Letter, or the utterly gut-wrenching Dimming of the Day that he performs here with his ex-wife. But, any plug for any song by Mr. Thompson is a good thing, so thanks very much, Michael, for pushing his cause. He's not only an extraordinary composer and guitar-player; he's an engaging and considerate person when you meet him. So much talent, so little guile. It's a rare combination these days. I'm hoping Whisky Prajer is persuaded by the strength of Mr. Thompson's latest release Sweet Warrior to be completely drawn into the music and words of Richard Thompson. Thanks to the ever-enlightening, resourceful, and entertaining DarkoV, and good listening to all. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Whiskyprajer, Janiva, and Richard
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- WhiskyPrajer is learning to like Richard Thompson and is crazy about Janiva Magness. Here's a free taste of the souful Janiva. And here's Thompson's bizarrely stirring "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," with its witty reference to "Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme." Be sure to enjoy Thompson's droning / dancing virtuosity on the guitar too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Further Vids
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- My previous posting elicited some excellent listening-and-watching suggestions. Rick Darby tipped me off to this video of a physical and energized Natalie Merchant; Yahmdallah has gotten me interested in the quirky and foul-mouthed English sprite Lily Allen; Flutist sent me off in search of the exuberant Helen Humes, here with Dizzy Gillespie's big band. (A late addition courtesy of Tatyana: Portland's nightclub-suave Pink Martini go head-to-head with Rita Hayworth in "Gilda.") Thanks to all. Good lord but it's a great time to be a music fan. My own favorite recent YouTube discovery, though, is one I made myself -- a video I just ran across of Bette Midler horsing around with Mick Jagger, then ripping into "Beast of Burden." As much as I love the Stones' original version of this song, Bette shows Mick a little something -- make that a great big something -- about moves, lustiness, humor, and dynamism. (Not to mention acting chops.) Midler can be such an amazing performer, can't she? Such a lovable mix of power and delicacy, sweetness and forcefulness, schmaltz and funk. And talk about joy in performing. Have you ever seen anyone so switched-on? Who seems to be having such a good time? Fun to learn that ball-of-fire Bette is all of five feet one inch tall. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 30, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Music Clips for the Week
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Stewart, "You're In My Heart." Embedding not allowed on this one, so click here. Has there ever been such an impish yet collected combination of working-class peacock, soccer fan, swish aristocrat, and camp queen? Rod's equal parts stud and diva. Part of what amuses me about the Rod Stewart thang is the way he usurps what we usually think of as the woman's prerogative. He's vain and irrational, hard-to-get, casually and charmingly insulting, and all the more attractive for being so self-centered, superficial, and thoughtless. If only more of us could get away with that particular act ... Jackie Wilson, "Lonely Teardrops." Performed live, unless I'm mistaken. Jackie Wilson was one of the most charismatic and most attractive of the early soul men. What a voice, what moves, what stage presence. A first-class finger-snapper too. And was that man a master of the craft of taking-off-a-suitjacket or what? Talk about a lost art ... Read more about Jackie Wilson here. "Lonely Teardrops" was written by Berry Gordy Jr., who later founded and ran Motown Records. Van Morrison, "And It Stoned Me." Most of Van's videos make me cringe -- he's one of the most uncomfortable stage presences I've ever seen. But I like this reggae version of "And It Stoned Me" a lot. Van's relaxed -- well, relatively relaxed. And the audacity of the idea and the peppy "up" rhythm injects some fresh life into a good song. I blogged a bit about Van back here. John Lee Hooker, "Boom Boom Boom." Menacing and quiet yet hard-rocking -- here's a lesson in how one voice, one guitar, a couple of stomping feet, and a whole lot of personality can fill up your consciousness as completely as a symphony orchestra. Nobody can accuse John Lee Hooker of not having his own way with a song. Rick Nelson, "Hello Mary Lou." The era between Elvis' enlistment in the Army in 1958 and the British Invasion of 1964 is considered by rock purists to be one of the lowest points in pop music history, a wasteland of middle-of-the-road soullessness. Me, I have a lot of fondness for some of those ultrabland, homogenized, dreamy sounds. "Hello Mary Lou" was written by Gene Pitney. I can't resist linking to a little more whitebread smoothness, the Everly Brothers doing "Dream." That song is one of the great "let me see if I can sing harmony" songs, isn't it? (Sadly, I can't.) It was written by a legendary yet underknown songwriting team, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. According to Wikipedia, Felice and Boudleaux, a married couple, published more than 1500 songs, and their work was performed by the likes of Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Sarah Vaughan, and the Grateful Dead. Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee trade a lot of easygoing yet sultry phrasing on "Why Don't You Do Right": And Peggy Lee shows how to use understatement to turn up the heat in this performance from the late 1950s of the... posted by Michael at August 30, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friday, August 10, 2007

Forces of Nature
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Albert King was born under a bad sign. Aretha wants you to think it over some. Son House never loved but four women in his life. Koko Taylor's gonna keep doin' it all night long. Ray Charles just wants to know. Booker T gives the go-go girls a reason to shimmy. Guitar Shorty takes it to the Santa Monica sidewalks. Suck on that, European concert-hall tradition. Who says America is short on worship-worthy art-giants? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 10, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stones on YouTube
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back the early '70s, the Rolling Stones commissioned the gloomy Beat photographer Robert Frank to make a documentary about them. "Cocksucker Blues," the resulting film, has never been released commercially. With its footage showing many of the Stones as the egomaniacs and druggies they then were, it was nothing the boys wanted shown in public. So what's this short clip doing on YouTube? And this one? Pretty soon it'll be impossible to keep a banned movie banned. Stones fans owe it to themselves to catch up with the work of heroic uploader BumNote. I especially enjoyed this performance of "Bitch." Is that from "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones"? I wrote about the Stones here; and about Jimmy Miller, the producer who helped the Stones make some of their best music, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 17, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, July 6, 2007

Fact for the Day -- Music-Biz Income
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A mere seven years ago, musicians derived 2/3 of their income from pre-recorded music, with the rest of their money coming from touring, merchandise, and endorsements. Today, according to The Economist, those proportions have completely reversed. Musicians now receive the majority of their income from touring, merchandise, etc., while recordings largely function as marketing tools for T-shirts and concert tickets. Writes The Economist: The logical conclusion is for artists to give away their music as a promotional tool. Some are doing just that. This week Prince announced that his new album, "Planet Earth," will be given away in Britain for free with the Mail on Sunday, a national newspaper, on July 15th. (For years Prince has made far more money from live performances than from album sales; he was the industry's top earner in 2004.) Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

S.T. on Performing, and On New York City
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- A pro performer with more than a few years of putting it out for audiences under his belt, Shouting Thomas responds to my recent posting about barnstorming across America: here and here. Fun writing from someone who knows the life and the scene far better than I do. ST also makes a point that I think is key cultural history, and that I want to underline: the way that the arts life in Manhattan has become, to be blunt about it, unsexy. These days, it can be hard even to remember, but the NYC downtown-edgy / arts-boho scene was once a hot and tingly thing. People often went into the arts because it was -- or at least seemed to be -- a sexy thing to do, as well as a sexy life to lead. What-the-hell provocation and foolhardy eroticism were cultivated for their own sweet sakes. When you went downtown, you expected and you usually encountered a lot of lewd and sometimes even joyous carrying-on. But the scene began to dry up in the early 1980s. (Dammit -- I moved here in the late '70s to take part in it myself.) What caused this development? As ST notes, the gay-ification and the feminization of the arts certainly played roles. As politically-motivated rebels moved into positions of responsibility, the clamps were tightened. Drear descended. I'll add to ST's list of causes Boomer remorse, the new careerism, the beginnings of political correctness, and the continuing entrenchment of the arts-administrator class. Art -- even far-out art -- now had to be "smart" and worthy, and not just worthy but a specific kind of arts-funding worthy. Artists grew more concerned with shrewd moves, nabbing funding, and self-positioning than with cutting loose. Nudity, hotness, and arousingness were now understood to be cause for worry and concern. The upshot: If anyone was going to strip, it was probably going to be a gay man. And the rationale for the naked or provocative moment wouldn't be to raise temperatures, but to sell a boringly-predictable political message. Though we've left the worst of those days behind us, it seems to me that its shadow lingers still. The Wife and I brush up against the Suicide Girls and po-mo burlesque scene occasionally, for instance. (Nasty Canasta is one of our faves.) And for all the naughtiness, personality, and gifts on display, everything's very knowing. There are quote marks around quote marks, and ironies buried within attitudes. Still, I'm hopeful and cheery. It seems to me that the layers of post-irony represent nothing but kids who have survived contempo upbringings throwing up pre-emptive defences against teachers and parents -- against P.C. superegos. Although too much energy may still be going into self-protection, the more important point is that edgy young people are once again throwing caution to the winds. Hallelujah: Arty kids are misbehaving sexily. (What else do you want them to do? It isn't as though they have anything substantial on their minds... posted by Michael at July 3, 2007 | perma-link | (27) comments

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sing It!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This may not be a posting for dial-up users ... When, back here , I linked to a couple of songs that I'm incapable of not singing along to, visitors pitched in with tons of their own sing-along faves. I've had a good time since seeing if I could find versions of these tunes on YouTube. Herewith my gleanings. The magnificent Louis Armstrong takes a swing through "Basin Street Blues": Kareena Kapoor does a slinky and exuberant Bollywood "It's Rocking": Janis Joplin drives her "Mercedes Benz" solo: Those offbeat party animals the B-52s join the "Deadbeat Club" ... ... and show the way to the "Love Shack": Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66 are tropical yet cool in "The Look of Love": Who can resist when The Beatles open up with "Twist and Shout"? The Association performs their memorable, for better or worse, "Windy": Here's a brilliant teen-webcam-karaoke/hoodie performance to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Did you know that the song was first released in the 1930s? Read about the song's long and complicated history here. Here's Roger Millers' "King of the Road." Just watch that man's finger-snapping technique! "When You're Smiling" by that force of nature Louis Prima: Roy Orbison does "Only the Lonely" -- a performance for which the word "haunting" might have been invented: Little Richard shows off a lot of bursting-at-the-seams energy on "Tutti Frutti": The Ramones blast through "Commando": The Chiffons' "He's So Fine" certainly ranks as one of the definitive girl-group songs: Whoa-a-whoa-a-whoa-whoa-whoa! Why, it's Tom Jones singing "What's New Pussycat": If a TV theme song can be said to be immortal, Frankie Lane's performance of the theme song from "Rawhide" may qualify. (Sorry about the version -- this was the best one I could turn up on YouTube.) Here's some early-'70s proto-heavy-metal -- "Radar Love" by Golden Earring: Why not enjoy some easygoing gay-funk? In other words, here's "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club: Back from a time when she still had some spark, here's Madonna doing "Material Girl": Dalida's rendition of "Mamy Blue" is a strong dose of Euro-soul: "FjSllstorm" by Olyg was aptly categorized by Ed From Malabar as "Folk music/Viking metal": "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond, who's one of a kind, and thank god for it: The Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda" gets my nomination for "Song Hardest Not to Try Singing Harmony To (Boys' Division)." What song would win the girls' division? Del Shannon shows off a spooky falsetto on "Runaway," a song that still brings out the doomy teen romantic in me. Flutist tells us that the wonderful instrument doing the solo is a Clavioline; Wikipedia tells me that this solo was performed by a musician named Max Crook. Yves Montand shows what Euro-cabaret style is all about in this rendition of "Les Feuilles Mortes": Tom Petty does a cheerily sardonic "Yer So Bad": Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman show that popular can also be classy on "Why Don't You Do Right": "Catchy" isn't a... posted by Michael at June 30, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Friday, June 22, 2007

Singing Along
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is it fair to propose a category of song labeled, more or less, "songs that I've made a happy fool of myself singing along to"? I think it may be OK. In any case, high on my personal list of such songs would come this goofily operatic piece of inane cheerfulness by Jay and the Americans: Listening to it, I'm a kid again, waiting until the house clears out, then cranking up our tiny stereo and bellowing along with Jay Black. Infantile pop bliss. Oh, here's another song that deserves a high place on my list: Johnny Rivers doing the immortal "Secret Agent Man": It's surprising how happy these silly songs still make me feel. In fact, they make me wish I didn't live in an apartment house. Even when The Wife is out and I have the place to myself, there are still neighbors around, darn it. One of the minor sorrows of my life is that I have such an appalling voice. If only I could really sing ... Just as I sometimes think that the story of my inner life is inscribed in the pornography I've collected over the years, I sometimes think that the story of my emotional life can be inferred from the songs I've loved to sing along with. Wikipedia is informative about Jay and the Americans as well as about Johnny Rivers. Interesting to learn that Jay and da boyz were discovered and shaped by the great Leiber and Stoller. Here's Jay Black's site. Here's Johnny Rivers'. Of all the songs you've enjoyed making a fool of yourself singing along with, which ones have made you the most dizzily happy? Best, Michael UPDATE: Lester Hunt rhapsodizes about Domenico Modugno's rendition of "Volare."... posted by Michael at June 22, 2007 | perma-link | (47) comments

Monday, June 11, 2007

1000 Words -- Ina Ray Hutton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another installment in my very-occasional series about moments and topics in cultural history that deserve to be better-known than they are. Previous installments: the American painter John La Farge; the ups and downs of the reputation of the Italian painter Piero della Francesca; J. Sheridan LeFanu's "Carmilla," sometimes said to the first vampire novel; the glories of coffee-house culture; the golden era that was Gold Medal Books. Among the many Swing bands that crisscrossed the U.S. during the 1930s were a number of what were known as "all-girl" bands. (I don't know as much about the general subject as I'd like to. Here's what's apparently the definitive book on the topic, which I haven't read.) The best-known of them was led by a singer/dancer and former showgirl with the priceless name Ina Ray Hutton. Ina Ray was born in Chicago; started out in show business as a child tap dancer; performed in the Ziegfeld Follies; and was then, in 1934, given a chance to lead an all-girl swing band. Singing, dancing, and snapping a conducting-baton around in the style of such singin'-dancin' bandleaders as Cab Calloway, Ina Ray became a national sensation. She and da girlz appeared in movies, made musical featurettes, and toured the country's nightclubs and dance halls successfully. Ina Ray continued leading bands (not all of them all-girl) right into the 1950s. She died in 1984. Thanks to some knowledgeable and enterprising YouTube uploaders, we can now get a look at and an earful of Ina Ray Hutton's work. She was quite a performer -- known not just as a musical phenomenon but as a charismatic sexpot too. I don't know about you but I find Ina Ray enchanting. She's uninhibited and athletic, but she's also seductive, charming, and likable -- part saucy golddigger and part entrepreneurial dynamo. She's as all-American and hearty as James Cagney or Gene Kelly, yet she's never unfeminine. I'm struck by her performing confidence, as well as by her easy sexual self-awareness. Wait a minute -- American women weren't supposed to have acquired any of these qualities until after the 1970s. Wasn't "the patriarchy" supposed to have made enjoyment, flamboyance, and expressiveness (not to mention money-making) impossible for pre-feminist women? Oh well, another political myth bites the dust. She's a sweetheart -- daring yet matter-of-fact, playful in a childlike way yet all woman too: a frisky, bold thing carried away by sexy fun. She has a lot more in the way of twinkle and zing than many of the earnest, clunky showgirls of the era do -- she's downhome yet sophisticated too, at least in terms of her wit and her emotional quickness. For me, Ina Ray has a vividness, an ease, and a spirit that cut right through the usual "period" distancing that makes so many people in old film clips seem to belong to a different species than we do. Despite the period costumes and the period styles, Ina Ray seems as alive to... posted by Michael at June 11, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, June 8, 2007

Charisma on Four Legs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- You thought Travolta radiated "it" when he showed off the white suit in "Saturday Night Fever"? You knew, just knew, that Michael Jackson had "it" when he moonwalked through "Billie Jean"? Well, make way for a similar blast of charisma and exuberance -- this time from a 9 year old Danish mare named Blue Hors Matine. Link thanks to Charlton Griffin. When does web-surfin' Charlton find time to make all those audiobooks anyway? Best, Michael P.S.:Is anyone having trouble posting comments? I've heard from one would-be commenter whose comment kept being rejected for "questionable content." I'm baffled, I apologize, I love questionable content, and I'm trying to figure out why our comments function is acting so prissy and intrusive. Of course, if you're having trouble posting a comment, how would you be able to post a comment to let me know about it ...... posted by Michael at June 8, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Punk Visuals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- London's Barbican art gallery is taking a look at the visual side of the punk-rock years. Quick: Who designed the jacket for the Sex Pistols' album "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols"? Answer: Jamie Reid. You can watch a couple of interviews with Jamie Reid here. The London Times has a package of stories that should inform, stir memories, and provoke thought. As someone who spent a little time around NY's punk-rock world -- I was no kind of punk myself but I had a number of friends who were seriously into the scene -- can I express a little surprise? Punk rock was never expected to last. It was meant by the people who made it and enjoyed it -- many of them anyway -- to take the whole pop scene down in flames. Instead it has turned into one of pop culture's most enduring styles. Life is funny sometimes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, May 11, 2007

Townes Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Uploading champ StAlphege shares a very moving clip from a televised tribute to Townes Van Zandt. (UPDATE: Here's another clip from the same show.) I blogged about Townes Van Zandt -- a heartbreaker of an artist in all too many ways -- back here. It's one of my better postings, if I do say so m'self ... Here's Jimmie Dale Gilmore doing Townes' "Buckskin Stallion Blues." Lordy, could that man cast a spell: If three and four was seven only, Where would that leave one and two? If love can be and still be lonely, Where does that leave me and you? Time there was and time there will be. Where does that leave me and you? Just typing those words out choked me up a bit, in a grateful-for- the-pain-and-the-beauty kind of way. I notice that John Kruth's bio of Townes (which I haven't yet read) is finally available. Only semi-related but too good not to pass along: Townes' best bud Guy Clark does a grave-yet-mischievous reading of his own "Dublin Blues," accompanied by the beautiful Karen Matheson. Matheson can cast quite a spell herself. Y'all are using TubeSock to download and save your favorite YouTube vids, aren't you? Given the ways of fate (and copyright lawyers), they aren't going to be available online forever. (UPDATE: Visitor Sam Boogliodemus does his downloading with the free Mux.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 11, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

More Joseph Spence
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wrote back here about the one-of-a-kind Bahamian guitarist-singer Joseph Spence. I notice that someone has put a few recordings by Spence (alone, with Louise, and with the Pinder family) up on YouTube: here, here, here. I can guarantee that you've never heard anything like Joseph Spence's version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." Few if any visuals, but the glorious music is there to be enjoyed. Click on the link to my previous posting for additional info about this giant of an artist. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 11, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bob and Gwen
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another YouTube treat: Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse doing an informal presentation of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' "Whatever Lola Wants," from "Damn Yankees": I love the combo of salaciousness and innocence, of delicacy and obviousness. It's all so vulgar, so vaudeville -- so icy-hot, so sleazy-lovable, and so sweetly insolent. I love Verdon's confidence and mischief. And I love the fact that an artist as erotically-driven as Bob Fosse took a goofy girl like Gwen Verdon as his muse. Talent was what turned him on. Well, one of the things that turned him on. A friend of mine who adores doing Fosse-style dance tells me that the thing that surprised her when she started to do Fosse was how held-in his movements are. "The impact is big," she says. "But the hip thrusts, the pelvic wagging, and the shoulder rolls are actually physically very tiny. You clear out a lot of space around them. And the fun is in building up such a big charge beneath them that these little movements knock the viewer over." As far as I'm concerned, Bob Fosse was a genius. Does American art get any better than than the "Steam Heat" number from "Pajama Game"? Did Toulouse-Lautrec ever do anything as mockingly deadpan and juicy -- as exhausted yet provocative -- as "Big Spender" from "Sweet Charity"? The immortal song was written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields. Not all that long ago, Fosse -- who died at 60 in 1987 -- was a huge figure, famous for stage and screen productions, as well as for winning eight Tony awards. These days ... Well, do young people even know his name at all? They might enjoy exploring his work. Much contemporary pop culture comes out of Fosse -- the choreography in music videos, for example, as well as the way music and dance are typically edited. The stop-and-start fireworks in "Big Spender"? The writhing ecstasy that slams into sudden languors? Movies had never moved like that before Bob Fosse came along. Some more glimpses of Fosse's work are here, here, and (oo-la-la -- corny but hot) here. Here's the Bob Fosse website. Wikipedia's entry on Fosse is first-class. The Fosse film to start with is "Cabaret." Here's Wikipedia on Gwen Verdon. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 26, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sad Songs
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- What's your favorite sad song, and why? I'm not talking about weepers, but dry-eyed, unsentimental sad songs.Personally I would vote for: (1) Hank Williams' rendition of I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, (2) Mr. Williams' Cold, Cold Heart, (3) Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sixteen Tons and (4) Goodnight, Irene in various versions. Okay, so my tastes seem to have congealed in the early 1950s. Deal with it. I should probably kick #1 out, because it may quite possibly be the best pop song in history, and thus it transcends any category. I might replace it with Elvis' Mess of Blues although the narrator of this one hasn't quite seen the light (darkness?) and still hopes that he can get on a train and "leave these blues behind." All these seem to capture the fact that many of the most important parts of life are the ones in which your heart's desires are ultimately frustrated, and not-ever-gonna-be-redeemed, at least not in this go round. About once a month I remember a conversation I overheard about 10 years ago in a coffee shop. A man sitting at a nearby table said in a loud, cheerful voice, "Well, you know Bob, when his son didn't come home from Vietnam he started drinking pretty hard." I mean, how does one deal with a situation like that other than (1) start drinking pretty hard yourself or (2) write a sad song about it? This consciousness doesn't seem to permeate pop culture much these days, although the energetic tone that replaced it seems motivated in part by repressed anxiety. Does anybody do really good sad songs today? Cheers, FvB... posted by Friedrich at April 26, 2007 | perma-link | (42) comments

Thursday, April 19, 2007

According to Alan Rich ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The promising -- and much-needed -- new blog FineArtsLA interviews the classical music critic Alan Rich. At 82, Rich is in a what-have-I-got-to-lose? mood. LA is on its way up, New York ought to tear down Avery Fisher Hall (right on!), academics are too infatuated by Theory, and classical music may only have a few good years left in it. (Link thanks to George Wallace.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 19, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sex Machine
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- YouTube gift for the day: Jackie Wilson doing a switched-on version of his classic "Lonely Teardrops." Did that man have a lot of sly but robust elegance or what? If only I could wear a pompadour and a suit with a tenth the conviction and panache ... I don't know that I've ever seen a performer squeeze such a lot of studliness out of such minimalistic dancing. And, hey, go-go dancers sure provide a nice frame for a singer, don't they? Some biographical facts about Jackie Wilson, which I picked up from Wikipedia: He was a Detroit native. He converted to Judaism as an adult. A notorious womanizer, he was once shot and wounded by a girlfriend who was jealous that he was heading home with a girlfriend of Sam Cooke's. Wilson had a massive heart attack when he was 41. He lived for only nine more years, and in a mostly-vegetative state. His expenses during this sad final stretch were paid for by Elvis Presley. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Real Thing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Michael Bierut deplores the music in "Dreamgirls" and praises the real thing: the work of the immortal Motown songwriting team of Holland / Dozier / Holland. Great line: "Sometimes our most artless, workmanlike efforts surprise us with their staying power." Hmmm. I'd even dare to pump that statement up a bit. How about: "In the U.S., the art that lasts often turns out to be work that wasn't initially thought of as 'art' at all"? Here's my own rave about the Motown documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown." And here's a posting I wrote about some of the wild and whacky ways American art often seems to work. Key passage, if I do say so myself: It's simply a fact that most of what's best, most likable and most vital in American art and culture comes in all kinds of surprising packages, and from all kinds of surprising directions. It takes the professors and the cultural gatekeepers decades to catch up -- movies, for instance, were only begun to be acknowledged as a great American art form 40ish years ago. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 1, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Good Times
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This Morris Day and The Time piece gets my vote for Most Irresistable Party Video Ever: Suave! Playboy vanity plus comic r&b equals entertainment bliss. I got real bored on a Friday night I couldn't find a damn thing to do. So I pulled out a suit about the same color As my BMW. Nothing wrong with that as poetry! That's a snazzy job of filmmaking too, well worth inspecting more than once. I wonder who the vid's director was. But I found this video of some company's accounting department lip-synching to The Time's "Jungle Love" almost as funny and endearing: There is (or at least can be) something so darned cute about the way white people love black people's style and music ... Here's the official website. Morris Day tells Wave magazine that he had a very good time in the 1980s. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 28, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, February 16, 2007

Manualism: A Short History
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- And here I thought that YouTube's Manualist was one of a kind ... Manualist is a 46 year old guy named Gerry Phillips who's able to deliver renditions of songs by squeezing the palms of his hands together. The action makes squirty-farty-tooty sounds, yet they're rhythmic, they're pretty much on pitch, and the results can be hard to resist. Here he plays a resonant "'Till There Was You." Here's his soulful version of "Maybe I'm Amazed": I do believe I like it better than the original. Interesting to see that Phillips has been practicing manualism since the age of 9, and that he has had to learn some bitter lessons along the way: having started so young i have been used and lied to by everyone from letterman to leno shows. they have left such a bad taste in my mouth that i now have no desire to ever be on television. so, please don't ask! i'm happy making videos and featuring them on youtube where people like you can see them! God bless YouTube. Still, I just now discovered that Phillips is in fact working within a tradition, if a small one. According to this page, someone named Cecil Dill was the first manualist to have his work recorded, 'way back in 1914. Another well-known manualist was a lawyer named John Twomey, who made several appearances on the Johnny Carson Show in the '70s and '80s. Here's my favorite: Wikipedia has an entry on John Twomey, but I've been unable to discover what's become of him since the late '90s. The work of a few other well-known, relatively speaking, manualists can also be enjoyed thanks to YouTube. Bruce Gaston amazes by introducing a a tremolo into his manualizing version of "Yankee Doodle Dandy": And Gaston shares a rock duet with Jim Rotondo: Manualism: an artform unto itself. Links abound on all these pages for the those interested in further research. Somewhat related: Here's a posting I wrote about the 19th century French music-hall star Joseph Pujol, aka "Le Petomane" or The Fartiste. Here's Wikipedia on Pujol. I do love a good novelty act. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 16, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Duets With Emmylou
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Surfing music-performance videos on YouTube recently, I found myself musing about the numerous ways we can (and often do) enjoy singers. Some we like mainly for their voices and musicality, of course. But some we enjoy more for their personal style. Some are amusing divas while others we take to as though they're Real People. The country-folk singer Emmylou Harris is a case in point, at least for me. She's a legendary beauty and a terrific talent, of course. Even so, I've never enjoyed her work as a solo performer. Despite her many gifts, when she's at the center of the spotlight I find her ... I dunno, limited, narrow, monotonous. A bit too pure, a bit too much the frozen love-object. Unkind of me to say, but it would never occur to me to buy a solo Emmylou CD. At the same time, there aren't many popular-music singers I enjoy more than Emmylou as a backup vocalist or a duetist. When she's singing as part of a group and not as a star, she seems to free up. She ditches the self-consciousness, and something I love -- something sultry, low-down, and good-humored -- makes an appearance. That famously angelic voice of hers treats itself to a roll in the dirt. She stops being all refined spirit and connects as well with her soul, her guts, and her pelvis. She pitches in. And lordy isn't that some sexy fun to witness? So to celebrate Emmylou's work the way I prefer it, let me pass along a couple of terrific vids. First up is a raucous, swinging duet on "Two More Bottles of Wine" with the song's writer, the Texas bar-band genius Delbert McClinton. A nice combo of rollicking and easygoing, no? Relaxed and exuberant -- a ruefully lusty toast to what a messed-up thing life can be. Pretty thrilling, in fact: friendship, loveplay, and mischief all wrapped up in one -- that's what it looked, sounded, and felt like to me anyway. I celebrated the glory that is Delbert McClinton here. In clip #2, Emmylou shares "Black Diamond Strings" with the Texas alt-folkie Guy Clark, whose face wins the "lived-in" award and retires it once and for all. I love the metaphysical earthiness of the performance: the combo of mournfulness and joy, of dreaminess and informality. I'm also touched by the droney-waltzy remoteness, which somehow makes life seem so much sweeter than it often does. The performance is like an old Daguerreotype come to musical life right in your own living room. And Emmylou: Hippie goddess though she obviously is, doesn't she also come across as a pliable, sly, many-sided creature? She isn't just an icon to be admired and worshipped; she's someone you're sharing some tangy private / public intimacy with. She's got a pulse; she lets herself vibrate. Bizarre but there it is: In my personal canon, Emmylou Harris is one of my favorite singers -- so long as she's sharing a... posted by Michael at February 8, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Underwear Soundtracks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why not let La Perla select your listening for you? Or maybe Aubade should do the honors? Hmm: Brilliant upscale filmy French women's underthings ... Romantic mood music ... It's not as if it isn't a match. And if designers are going to leave no dimension of our lives untouched -- if such is our fate in the 21st century -- I can certainly think of worse companies to put my aural pleasure in the hands of. Classy-sexy, too-good-for-the-likes-of-you-and-me publications here and here. Baroooo! February is lookin' mighty hot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 6, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Clip for the Day -- Shane and Co.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Though I was never a huge Pogues fan, "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" is a song that really gets to me. Its exultant, "rip it up, then take it down in flames" spirit reminds me of what I loved about some punk music, and about some of the punk scene. What a kick it must have been for the young Irish to hear Irish folk sounds put to a punk beat (and then set fire to!) by such a ragtag, wasted, and talented band. Dig the filmmaking job on that video too. Does anybody know who made it? The cuts to the surging, ecstatic crowd are brilliantly timed and placed. The contrast between the intricacy of the music -- the fingerwork and the counterpoint -- and the power and the physicality of the emotions is heightened very cannily. And the moment near the end when lead singer Shane MacGowan points inquiringly at some people in the audience, gives them a thumbs-up, then returns to his performance with a devil's shriek seems touched by genius. Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker couldn't improve on it. Whoever shot and cut the video also does a pretty effective job of disguising the fact that the music wasn't recorded live. Unless my ears are 'way off, that's the original studio-LP recording of the song. I mean, sure, you can tell that you're watching a visual montage set to a musical track. But for some reason you don't care. I didn't anyway. Confection that it is, the video feels more like a live performance than most live-performance videos do. Some telling details about the defiantly self-destructive MacGowan courtesy of Wikipedia: MacGowan got his first taste of fame when, in 1976 at a Clash concert, his earlobe was bitten off by a girl he had previously been kissing. A photographer snapped a picture of him covered in blood and it made the papers, with the headline "Cannibalism At Clash Gig", turning him into a local punk legend ... He was introduced to alcohol at the age of five by his aunt on the promise he would not worship the devil; she also introduced him to cigarettes at the same time. MacGowan first tried whiskey when he was 10 and continued to drink heavily from that point on. And a classic back-at-ya from the ever-unrepentent Shane: "The British press have been giving me six months to live for the past twenty years." I suspect that Shane has used that particular line more than once ... Long ago, I wrote about (and recommended) a very moving Sarah Share documentary about Shane MacGowan called (you got it) "If I Should Fall From Grace." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 6, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Clip for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's only a little over a minute long. But, good lord: It's Louis, with Barney Bigard on clarinet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Earl Hines on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass, and Sid Catlett on drums. Giants really did once roam the earth. That may be "traditional" jazz but it's sure some far-out stuff. The song is the immortal "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." I recall a funny passage in Josef Skvorecky's "The Bass Saxophone" (highly recommended, btw) where Skvorecky -- recalling his youth as a young jazz fan in Prague -- does a literal translation of the song's title and tries to figure out what the phrase "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" might mean. "Looking for dinner," perhaps? Many thanks for the thousandth time to heroic YouTube uploader Bob Erwig. Bob's own website, which I've only just begun to explore, is here. Bob cuts loose on his own cornet here. Lovers of traditional jazz won't want to deny themselves the pleasure of reading Philip Larkin's wonderful "All What Jazz," one of my favorite volumes of criticism. Who says that reactionary can't also be brilliant, appreciative, knowledgeable, and insightful? Larkin gets in some swipes at bop and post-bop too. Justifed or not, they're pretty funny. Best, while snuffling away tears of happiness, Michael... posted by Michael at January 2, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, December 25, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Everyone -- I'm dreaming of a Flash-animated Xmas ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 25, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

When Did U.S. Music Peak?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I confess to being a failed clarinet player and barely having the capability of working the on/off switch of a CD player. Hardly stratospheric cred for writing about music, but we Blowhards are eternal amateurs (it says so in the left-hand panel), so I take that as license for the following blast of hot air. Just when did U.S. music peak? (Does anyone out there think it's still improving in quality? -- please comment.) I say the 1930s, defined in practice as the period roughly from the mid-20s to early in World War 2. Classical music? There was Aaron Copland, and nowadays George Gershwin CDs are found in the Classical sections of music stores. Popular music? I haven't done a statistical study, but I'd be willing to bet the Blowhards slush fund's entire 37 cents that most listings of "standards" would be disproportionately represented by songs that originated 1925-42, often from Broadway shows. See Mark Steyn's book about Broadway shows here for plenty of examples. And Jazz-related music? From the mid-30s into the war it was the era of big-band Swing. Think Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and Gene Krupa, not to mention Ziggy Ellman doin' the Schoener Maedel riff on trumpet. Since then, a good deal of fine American music has been created, but my take is that standards, pure jazz and classical music have been weakening, leaving an unbalanced current musical scene. Better-informed people are more than welcome to set me straight in Comments. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 6, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Downloadable Bob
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Brian, who points out that Bob Dylan's Theme Time radio shows can be downloaded here. Brian writes: "They make great drive-time listening. Make sure you click on the "Archive" versions if you want them divided into tracks; otherwise it's just an hour-long file. I recommend Drinking, Jail, and The Devil to start off with. He gives the nod to Sister Rosetta Tharpe's YouTube video on episode 17, Friends And Neighbors, saying 'it'll blow your mind'. Who'd've guessed Bob was YouTube hip? But then again he's hip to everything, ain't he. Theme Time set lists are here, Theme Time forums are here. Speaking of His Bobness, have you seen this? Have mercy"! Mercy indeed! That's a clip that deserves a place in the same pantheon as David Hasselhoff's rock videos. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 30, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- So when was rock 'n' roll born anyway? Perhaps the easiest way to take on the question is to look at the dates of some of the best-known early rock songs. Bill Haley and the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" was released in 1954, the same year as "That's All Right Now (Mama)," Elvis Presley's first single. Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" came along in 1955: Chuck Berry is so impish and sly, isn't he? Could any other man make cardigan sweaters look sexy? And why do some of his lyrics deliver such intense pleasure? Lordy: "As I was a-motivatin' over the hill / Saw Maybellene in a Coupe de Ville / Cadillac a-rollin' on a open road / Nothin' out-runnin' my V-8 Ford" ... I don't know about you, but I feel a thrill every time I hear them. But these familiar early-rock songs were preceded by a lot of music that was awfully hard-rocking. Was it rock 'n' roll too? As Wikipedia notes, "The line separating late 1940s rhythm & blues from early rock & roll is not always clear." I'll say. Some examples: Roy Brown, who released "Good Rocking Tonight" in 1947, and Fats Domino, who was already making recordings in the full Fats mode by 1949. And no one should overlook the great jump-blues immortal Louis Jordan, who had found his style with songs like "Caldonia" by the early 1940s. If that music doesn't rock, then my pseudonym isn't Michael Blowhard. It's fun to realize how much the gals were caught up in the birthin' process too. I linked before to this amazing video of Sister Rosetta Tharpe shaking things up with her hard-rocking, funky gospel. But why not do it again? Not enough people know of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. If that performance doesn't give your spirits a big boost, then you may want to check and make sure you've still got a pulse. Among the many things I love about that clip is the way Sister Rosetta moves during her guitar solo. Talk about being over, above, behind, and in the beat! Talk about struttin'! It doesn't come as a complete surprise to learn that Sister Rosetta was one of Little Richard's favorite performers, does it? Hmmm, let's see ... Since there's an obvious continuity from Little Richard to Prince, would we be justified in seeing a line of descent that runs from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Prince? So her influence is still very much with us. Small American-music history lesson: Sister Rosetta Tharpe was already a popular performer in the 1930s. Here's a rare treat: Sister Rosetta Tharpe alone with her guitar. And then there was Ruth Brown, aka Little Miss Rhythm. To be frank, this whole posting is just an excuse to link to a Ruth Brown performance that I love. And isn't that part of the fun of asking questions like "When did rock and roll really begin?" I'm most definitely of the "it's the adventure, not the... posted by Michael at November 29, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Friday, November 24, 2006

How's Your Pitch Perception Ability?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have Lake Woebegone ears: I scored 72 on this fun test, a couple of points above normal. Trying to remember and compare musical phrases is kind of absorbing, isn't it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 24, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, November 16, 2006

He Felt Good
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Remember how impressed everyone was when Michael Jackson moonwalked? Well, children, here's a little history lesson. Slick and most-excellent though MJ's move was, back in the 1960s Mr. James Brown could moonwalk in four different dimensions, and at warp speed. Yow! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Perso-Indic Rap
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Agnostic, who linked to this hiphop video by a couple of Muslims. (Agnostic's observations about the video are here.) Watching it, the main thing that occurs to me is that young people all over the world now seem to have grown up on the same flashy, lowest-common-denominator cultural diet: MTV, Victoria's Secret catalogues, hiphop, Simpson-Bruckheimer movies, and Maxim magazine. Am I missing any other key cultural markers? And is anyone else around here feeling suddenly old? In the comments on Agnostic's posting, GNXP associate Jakkeli links to this example of Finnish rap. Finnish rap, lordy. I wonder what Tyler Cowen, who has written a book mostly in praise of the cultural effects of globalization, would have to say about these developments ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 9, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Pinnacle
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some performances simply can't be excelled, now or ever. One question? Why hasn't The Hoff covered this song yet? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 29, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Time to Practice Your Punk Arpeggios, Dear ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some may find this hard to believe, but Johnny Rotten, Chryssie Hynde, Billy Idol, and Joe Strummer all received vocal coaching. I'd love to have sat in on those sessions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, October 9, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For funky, semi-camp-but-genuinely-danceable, '80s bliss, does your vote go to Billy Ocean's inimitable "Get Out of My Dreams (Get Into My Car)"? Or to Rick James' never-to-be-equalled "Superfreak"? Mr. James is, sadly, no longer with us, though you can always explore the Rick James website. Interesting to learn that Mr. Ocean was born Leslie Charles in Trinidad; that he was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Westminster University; and that he recently converted to Rastafarianism. The Billy Ocean website is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hard to Watch, Great to Hear
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The one time I saw him perform live, Van Morrison struck me as one of the most awkward on-stage presences imaginable. It was a dismal evening, and it put me off his music for years. Still ... Hard though I may find it to watch Van, there's still something about "Tupelo Honey" that makes me want to hit the Endless Repeat button. Mournful yet romantic, folklorishly-droning yet sweetly-melodic -- what a strange and wonderful gift that man has. Related: Van duets with Bob Dylan on "Crazy Love." The classic Van Morrison albums, as far as I'm concerned, are this one, this one, and this one. Here's the website of John Platania, whose haunting guitar work added so much to the sad/joyful tone of "Moondance" and "His Band and the Street Choir." Here's an interview with Janet Planet, the onetime flower-child and muse who was the inspiration for much of Van's early music, including "Tupelo Honey" and "Brown-Eyed Girl." She left him in 1973. "I was confusing the music with the man," she says -- not the first music-lovin' girl to make that particular mistake! "The music was everything you could hope for as a romantic. The man was a prickly pear." Best, Michael UPDATE: Interesting to learn -- from an Adam Sweeting review of a Johnny Rogan biography of Van -- that "virtually nobody is willing to offer a ringing endorsement of [Van's] personal qualities, and he is depicted as having been self-centred and unsociable virtually from birth ... One of Rogan's themes is the contrast between the sublimity of Morrison's finest music and the ugliness of his behaviour offstage. It's peppered with incidents in which Morrison abuses or physically attacks some of his closest friends (remarkably, he has some), as well as a couple of episodes apparently so grotesque that lawyers suppressed them."... posted by Michael at September 20, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, September 18, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- They may despise yoga, obsess about alpha males, run screaming from cooking classes, and wish women came with Help files installed, but by god nothing can prevent them from creating their own brand of music. Thanks to Coffee Mug at GNXP, who pointed out this hilarious site devoted to Nerdcore, badass tracks laid down by rhymin' and bustin' geeks. (Am I using the lingo even remotely correctly?) And if GNXP doesn't know geek, then who does? I was especially taken by a sweet and funny bit of romantic harmonizing by the Australian comedy group Tripod. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

T-Bone Walker
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Texas-born bluesman T-Bone Walker (1910-1975) was one of the founding giants of modern American popular music. Electrifying a hollow-body guitar and using it as a lead blues instrument? That was a T-Bone innovation. Acting out a sweetly-insinuating, sexy-gentleman number onstage? T-Bone may not have invented the persona, but he certainly moved the game forward a number of steps. Playing the guitar behind his back, and dancing across the stage while soloing -- moves many of us associate with Chuck Berry? T-Bone got there first. "They Call It Stormy Monday (but Tuesday's Just as Bad)"? That's a T-Bone song. If, listening to T-Bone, a lot of the licks seem familiar via many other guitarists,well, there's a very good chance that T-Bone was the man who laid them down first. He was a kind of music-history hub through which scores of influences entered and exited. T-Bone himself learned from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charlie Christian. At a later date, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix picked up a lot from T-Bone. Aside from his importance and his large influence, I simply love his music: the quiet sophistication of it; the humor and confidence that are worn so lightly; the sinking-into-it love of dirt, juice, and grit. Though T-Bone spent much of his life in California, he grew up near Dallas and he never seems to have lost a Texan's heartiness, directness, physicality, warmth, and approachability. He was an after-hours kind of gent and dude, but he was always a downhome one. And his bursts of gung-ho humor and libido, his canny, effortless-seeming, mellow vocal stylings, and his hilariously lusty and witty mood shifts all help give his performances zing and color. I've been thinking about T-Bone Walker mainly because of a superb little performance video that I ran across on YouTube: Cool yet hot, funny yet moving, smooth yet gritty -- my word! I have a hard time imagining how popular music can be more lovable than this. * Here's the All-Music Guide's entry on T-Bone Walker. This inexpensive Rhino compilation CD is a good place to start exploring T-Bone's music. * More blues: I wrote about visiting the Mississippi Delta and loving the Delta blues here and here. * Only semi-related but what the heck: I wrote about another earthy genius, the ultra-quirky Bahamian guitarist-singer Joseph Spence, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, September 8, 2006

Weekend Music
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Richard Thompson gives an up-close-and-personal performance of his wild and immortal "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," with its hilarious and moving line, "Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme": I find the song's combo of the sardonic, the grandiose, and the over-the-top passionate pretty thrilling -- pop music at its most cocky-tragic, bizarre, and folk-operatic. And ain't that some nice guitar-picking? The CD the song appears on is a winner too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, August 24, 2006

If I Only Had a Voice
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you ever wondered what it must be like to have an impressive and eloquent speaking or singing voice? The power that James Earl Jones must feel as he rumbles and enunciates! Having a tight little monotone of a voice myself, I'm afraid that in this lifetime I'll never be experiencing that kind of thrill. Here's another example of vocal prowess: Eric Burdon, the lead singer of the gritty, thrillingly-overblown (IMHO, of course) '60s British pop band The Animals. Ain't it a hoot the way that -- his voice aside -- Burdon looks like such a trollish, pimply little punk? He even moves badly. Yet watch how, when he opens his mouth, he morphs into a living megaphone-in-an-echo-chamber. He really revels in the spooky grandeur that his voice projects: To be honest, what he really makes me imagine is a particular kind of high school classmate. He's small, he's awkward, he's nothing special, he lives in the shadows. Yet there's always an annoying little glint of "I'm special" amusement in his eye -- a glint that helps explain why he gets beaten up on a regular basis. What is it that's so irksome about the little creep? Finally you learn what it is that explains that little edge of ego: Your nondescript, loser acquaintance has the biggest dick in class. Interesting to find out from some web-surfing that The Animals had only two good years; that they were cheated out of royalties and earnings even more flagrantly than most pop groups are; that Eric Burdon turned into a psychedelia-era flower-power type; and that, these days, one re-grouping of The Animals sometimes performs on a Color Line cruise ship. Here's Eric Burdon's own website. How's your own voice? Weak? Passable? A magnificent instrument of persuasion and seduction? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 24, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Uninhibited 2
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A Boomer friend recently told me about a party he'd thrown for his daughter, who was turning 21. Her friends were in attendance, as were many parents. Entertainment included a mocking PowerPoint slideshow, drinks, toasts, and funny presents. Up at the mike, the girl's friends told racey stories about her sex life, and three of the joke-gifts they presented to the girl were dildos. It evidently never occurred to the kids that this might not be quite the way to behave in the presence of their parents. On YouTube, two blonde teens dance in front of the bedroom-webcam to a surly (and catchy) rap song whose refrain is "Circle circle, dot dot / I got my cootie shot." There's some stuff about booteys, and a recurring moment involving the line ''I'll fuck her anyway." The girls bounce around happily to the rhythms. Whee! What fun! (Complete lyrics to the song are here.) Today's kids are making Boomers look like prudes. I wrote a previous blog posting about today's know-no-inhibitions kids here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 17, 2006 | perma-link | (29) comments

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hot Ice
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Time to play compare and contrast! Two blonde chanteuses from different eras show some of what can be done with the classic "I Don't Know Enough About You." Peggy Lee and Diana Krall give lessons in how to keep it cool but smokin', and how to use sly understatement to make those fires burn, baby. Smooth and composed -- yet anything but prim -- Peggy Lee bends it oh so mischievously: And how's that for easygoing erotic self-confidence? Diana Krall shows a lot more grit and funk, but she also demonstrates that class can still be a sexy thing even in a let-it-all-hang-out era: Holding a little something in sultry reserve: Is there anything hotter than that? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 14, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lex on the Ramones
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lexington Green might -- might -- be an even bigger Ramones fan than Brian is. Punk junkies won't want to miss Lex's brilliant ruminations on what made the boys so great. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 11, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hey, Ho! Let's Go!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was trying to coax visitor Brian -- a classical-music buff as well as a fellow YouTube addict -- into sharing his favorite YouTube clips. I failed, darn it: Brian turns out to be in anything but a classical-music phase. But I failed in a good way. Here's part of Brian's response: "I'm not listening to classical much at the moment. It's all Ramones all the time these days. Compare the audience at this '78 concert to your 1970 Bo Diddley clip of last week, and you'll find out who saved rock 'n' roll: [More here, here, here, and here.] Say, that ain't such a bad post in itself... Go ahead and put 'em up if you want to. Did you know Johnny Ramone was a Republican?" Ramones-wise, I can recommend "End of the Century," Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia's excellent documentary about The Ramones. (Amazon, Netflix.) And I'm eager to catch up with the Special Edition DVD of Allan Arkush's cheerfully tacky C-movie classic "Rock 'n' Roll High School," featuring The Ramones. (Amazon -- I wasn't able to turn up the Special Edition on Netflix.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 10, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, August 4, 2006

Singers and Songwriters
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- On a page where they sell DVDs of their shows, the Austin City Limits gang offer generous samples of music performances. Adequate visuals, complete songs, excellent sound quality ... And the line-up! Just to mention a few of my faves: Fats Domino, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Delbert McClinton. Don't miss Delbert's "Giving It Up For Your Love" -- soul-stirring stuff. I rhapsodized about the magnificence that is Delbert here. Some other recent sightings: alt-country god Guy Clark is caught on amateur camcorder performing his classic "L.A. Freeway" ... A young Bette Midler has a lusty, er, ball with double-entendres on "Dr. Long John" ... Here she zings home an exuberantly campy rendition of "Pretty Legs and Great Big Knockers" ... Have you ever seen a performer who loves, just loves, being on stage quite as much as Bette does? And Shouting Thomas can now be found on iTunes! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 4, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, July 28, 2006

Irrefutable Proof that Civilization Declined Between 1964 and 1970
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Via YouTube, two dynamite performances by the great Bo Diddley. 1964: 1970: Both are full of throb, sweat, humor, and power. Man, did Bo Diddley ever have a lot of confidence and force! Watching him in action reminds me of looking at some of Picasso's more exultant bulls. But compare the audiences. The 1964 crowd is in a state of happy, shrieking frenzy -- good times! The 1970 crowd is a sluggish sea of solemn kids. Barely a one of them moves; they seem weighed down by something far more important than mere pleasure. Now: Which crowd would you rather be a member of? What happened between '64 and '70? Did the decade that had kicked off with such cheery, wriggling gusto collapse into a heap of introverted self-importance? That's what it sometimes felt like at the time. I'm pleased that, if we accomplished nothing else, my own, barely-post-'60s cohort (class of '76) at least brought energetic dancing back, and with a vengeance. We can die proud. BTW, when I grow up I want to be able to wear a suit as snazzily as Bo Diddley does. I'd love to be able to dance like Bo Diddley does too -- look at that footwork! But I know that's asking 'way too much. Related: I blabbed here about what it was like being a younger-than-hippie-age Boomer, and about the 1970s. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2006 | perma-link | (29) comments

You Tube-ishness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lex turns up a Ronettes video that's somehow funky and darling at the same time. He annotates it touchingly too. * God is in the house -- Art Tatum himself, making his grand piano look like Linus' (Correction: Schroeder's) toy keyboard: * What business model? Ilkka's predicting that YouTube will last for another year, tops. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, July 21, 2006

YouTube for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Much as I'd like to give this posting an overarching theme, I in fact have no way of theme-a-tizing these YouTube clips. Well, except maybe to report that each one of them made me think "Hallelujah!" * Iris Dement sings a raw and touching "Sweet is the Melody": * Professor Longhair gives a profound lesson in what it means to be New Orleans. * I listen to Nat King Cole's trio thinking, "I don't ask for anything more from jazz than this." I don't know if I actually stand by that statement, but it's certainly how his music makes me feel. * For smooth and suave stylings, it's hard to beat Sam Cooke:: * A short but hard-swinging "Blue Moon of Kentucky" by that country powerhouse Patsy Cline. Patsy wasn't subtle but she sure did deliver: * Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Harry James and the boys serve up a smokin' "Sing Sing Sing": * I want some of whatever faith it is that Sister Rosetta Tharpe is selling. (Did you know that Sister Rosetta Tharpe was Little Richard's favorite performer?) Marveling once again at the amazing resource that is YouTube, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bum Bum Bum Bum
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Scott Esposito turns up a dynamite YouTube discovery: videos of the very commanding Herbert van Karajan conducting Beethoven's 5th (part one, part two). Great piledriving-yet-noble stuff, if not easy to make use of as background music. Scott himself recently turned in a smart and helpful appreciation of Nabokov's "Pale Fire," as well as a couple of other experimental works. Best, MIchael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, July 7, 2006

More YouTube Finds
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Graham Lester discovers YouTube and turns up some beauties: a whole passel of gorgeous violin performances, and a bizarrely moving video that sets fragments of Japanese anime to Leonard Cohen's mournfully romantic "Suzanne." (Do we call such a creation a "remix"? A "mashup"?) Lexington Green unearths a montage of stills of Chet Baker accompanied by Baker's boyishly sexy and gentle "Let's Get Lost." BigTent points out some zanily endearing Bollywood funk, 'fro and all. 2Blowhards visitor Onetwothree volunteers a wonderfully zigzaggy performance by Thelonious Monk, while Brian zeroes in on the ultra-raw, old-time blugrass giant Roscoe Holcolmb, the man whose music inspired the term "a high, lonesome sound." If, after touring these sights and sounds, your ears, eyes, and brain aren't doing flipflops of pleasure, then the time has come to dial 911. Surfing YouTube (and swapping YouTube links with others) makes me feel giddy. It makes me feel like I felt when I first started to explore the web itself. Lex writes, "Let me be the nine-millionth person to praise the infinite awesomeness of YouTube." Let me be the nine-million and oneth. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 7, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Duke or The Count?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Terry Teachout for linking to this ultra-suave Duke Ellington Orchestra performance of "Satin Doll": I confess that, where swing bands are concerned, I was always more of Count Basie fan myself: funkier, harder-hitting. Just see if you can sit still through this hoppin' small-combo version of "One O'Clock Jump." Does music get much steamier than this?: As the wise man often said, though: Why not enjoy both? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Four Facts About Neil Diamond
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * As a kid, Neil Diamond sang in a choir with Barbra Streisand. * Neil Diamond is now 65. * Neil Diamond wrote "I'm a Believer." * It took Neil Diamond four years of Freudian analysis to wake up to the fact that his song "Solitary Man" -- "I’ll be what I am. A solitary man" -- was about him. Here's his official site. Here's Wikipedia's entry on him. Neil Diamond is on MySpace! Here's the video for Smash Mouth's amusingly hardhitting version of "I'm a Believer." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 28, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, June 16, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anne Thompson tips us off to "Young American Bodies" -- a new (and popular, and NSFW) example of the latest audiovisual-through-time storytelling form: the ongoing webshort video series. I didn't love "YAB" myself, but it did leave me convinced that the webshort-series is a super-promising new format. Looking into the official Blowhards crystal ball, I see much ferment and excitement in the field, and I predict that great things will come of it. I was much happier watching Neal Medlyn's zany and sweet "Land of Make Believe," a free-associating, eerily-comic performance-art jamboree. Medlyn's imagination is something to behold; his show (also an ongoing webshort series) is like "PeeWee Herman's Playhouse," but on a billionth the budget and with the perversity worn on its sleeve -- and proudly so. Kinky! Bizarre! Fun! Speaking of web-video ... I continue to spend far too much time digging up old music-performance clips from YouTube. One of my favorite recent finds: the tough (look at that plaid shirt), hard-rockin' Big Mama Thornton doing her formidably funky/swampy version of "Hound Dog." You don't mess with Big Mama! -- who, by the way, recorded the song three years before Elvis Presley did. I notice that surfing for and watching video on the web is already beginning to seem natural to me, while the ritual of sitting down before the TV has begun to feel staid and archaic. I wonder if the suits at the networks are terrified of what YouTube represents. Here's Wikipedia's entry on Big Mama Thornton. Best, Michael UPDATE: Agnostic has been prowling YouTube too. You can enjoy what he's turned up here, here, and here. Don't miss this one, which pretty much embodies all of today's visual / conceptual language. It has everything: lip-synching, thong-flashing, mugging for the camera, cute Japanimation eyes, MTV cutting, with all the ingredients Cuisinarted together on iMovie ... It's a bedroom-webcam aesthetic. It's also a whole new world, one that doesn't belong to anyone over the age of 25. To be fair, the clip is also amusing, cute, and well-done. Small discovery for today: As far as I've been able to tell, the song that has been lip-synched more often than any other is "Hey, Mickey." I wrote a little item about Toni Basil here.... posted by Michael at June 16, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Hasselhoff's Latest
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not entirely sure that the Master has succeeded in sustaining the inspiration level he showed in his immortal version of "Hooked on a Feeling." But not even Tolstoy was able to crank out nothing but masterpieces. And, if for nothing other than raw ego and shamelessness, Hoff's version of "Secret Agent Man" merits applause -- as well as close critical study. You can buy the original song (and more) here. Did you know that Johnny Rivers was born John Ramistella? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 10, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Camp? Post-Camp? Neo-Camp?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time, the word "camp" connoted an attitude -- a way of taking things -- that was in-group, sly, coterie. These days ... Well, doesn't it seem as though the media-creation that isn't knowingly self-parodistic is the exception to the general rule? Soon life itself will become just another media event asking to be laughed at while reveling in being paid attention to. Perhaps the time has come to decommission the word "camp"? That said, this zanily deluded rock video from the self-described "queen of Tampa public-access television" did make me laugh out loud. I do wish it hadn't, though. Wikipedia describes camp as "an ironic appreciation of that which might otherwise be considered outlandish or corny," and then goes on at considerable length. Hey, what kind of a role did camp play in the music of The Rolling Stones at their peak? I mean: pink satin! Yet there's something else going on there too, isn't there? But perhaps I'm deluding myself. Question for the day: What to make of it when irreverence-at-the-expense-of-the-mainstream becomes the mainstream thing itself? When everything in life has come to be a knowing put-on of itself, does that signify the End of All Good Things? Or reason to party like it's 1999? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 4, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Angry Eyeglass Frames
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here are some YouTubes for all you fans of classic angry geekrock: Elvis Costello, still young and hungry, doing "Oliver's Army," "Pump it Up," and "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding." Here's an odd one: "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," complete with subtitles. I had no idea those were the song's lyrics ... Dweeby, surly, obnoxious, and kickass -- a combo that sometimes still suits me just fine. I love the low-fi/ Super-8 quality of the filmmaking too. Hey, here's Elvis in what's apparently his first TV appearance, doing a very confident "Alison." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 31, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Stones in the '70s
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This footage of the Rolling Stones performing "Dead Flowers" has me reaching for the eyeliner! Well, not really. Even at my rock-lovin', adolescent silliest I never dared to use makeup. I did have some guy friends who loved the glam-rock era all too well, though. Ah, the 1970s ... Mick does everything short of eating the camera in this video for the 1978 song "Faraway Eyes": That mouth of Mick's is really ... a phenomenon, isn' t it? It looks like so very much to manage. When it moves, the event must register on the Richter scale. No one can say that Mick Jagger hasn't figured out how to turn something most of us would consider a deficit into a positive ... Watching these clips, I'm mostly struck by the sneering, the sarcasm, and the brattiness. I still like the songs a lot, and I'm enjoying feeling transported back to the handful of years when I was a fan of the Rolling Stones. But what on earth was all that '60s-era sneering about? Part of it is sexy bad-boy preening, of course. But maybe Shouting Thomas was onto something too in some words he wrote about the Jefferson Airplane: "self-importance ... megalomania ... spoiled brat lunacy ... an embarassment of the great Spoiled Child rebellion of the 60s ..." That's nothing if not eloquent, and god knows I can see evidence of what ST was writing about in these clips. Trivia-time: Wikipedia indicates that Mick Taylor, the angelic-looking (and maybe over-virtuosic?) boy-wonder guitar soloist on "Dead Flowers," quit the band in 1974 at least partly out of horror at their decadence, then spent the late '70s and the 1980s as an addict himself. "I'll be in my basement room/ With a needle and a spoon" indeed. Long ago, I wrote a short posting in praise of Jimmy Miller, the brilliant producer who pulled some of the Stones' best records -- or at least most of my faves -- out of them: the stretch that includes "Sticky Fingers," "Let It Bleed," and "Exile on Main Street." I wondered out loud about what had become of Jimmy Miller. Visitor John Penny sent me an informative email and gave me permission to use it: Hi Michael, I came upon your blog about Jimmy Miller as I was searching the web about him. I met Jimmy in the early nineties through some cohorts of mine. Poor Jimmy was strung out on heroin and had liver disease. He was in the Boston area trying to find bands to produce. Jimmy was a drummer. That's him playing the cowbell on the Stone's Honky Tonk Women. The Jimmy I knew was a real gentlemen, very charismatic. He had great stories about rock stars from Mick to Jim Morrison. He told me he lost everything through junk and bad music deals. A few years later the liver disease took its toll. Jimmy died of the disease in Arizona. He was only in... posted by Michael at May 20, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, May 18, 2006

YouTube for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As yet, there isn't much hippie-redneck folk/country footage to watch on YouTube -- nothing like the amount of early rock there is, for instance. Here's a wonderfully-unadorned performance of "Pancho and Lefty" by Townes Van Zandt. But where are the clips of Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett, James McMurtry, Delbert McClinton, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore? For the moment, I'm contenting myself with this heartbreakingly harsh/sweet performance of "Our Town" by Iris Dement, backed by Emmylou Harris. When I first heard Iris Dement, I was put off by her plainspoken girlishness, and by the cornpone-and-gingham astringency in her voice. But my resistance lasted, oh, about a minute; somewhere during that first song I found myself so touched by it that I started to sniffle. Now I'm a full-fledged Iris addict. Those dimples ... That slight overbite ... Those frowns of concentration ... The way her feelings pass over her face like cloud-shadows over a landscape ... Wouldn't Robert Altman's camera just eat this girl up? If Iris Dement's songwriting and singing get to you, you might enjoy this CD, and maybe this one too. Best, Michael UPDATE: YouTube embedded clips are balky for the moment, darn it. But you can still watch Iris' performance by going here. And a bonus link: a lovely "I'll Be Your San Antone Rose" by Emmylou Harris. Good lord, that pure-angel voice of Emmylou's ... Where can such a perfect vocal instrument have come from? Son of a gun, here's Lyle Lovett performing "I've Been to Memphis" and "That's Right, You're Not From Texas." UPDATE 2: Oh, the hell with it. I've deleted the misbehaving YouTube player in this posting, and have supplied the usual-style URL links to the video clips I write about ...... posted by Michael at May 18, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Time Passes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- How time passes, vol. 639: Toni Basil, who sang the bouncy-cute pop song "Hey, Mickey" such a short while back, is now 63 years old. Interesting to learn that Toni grew up in Vegas. She appeared as a go-go dancer on "Shindig"; she choreographed David Byrne's famous spazz dance in the video of "Same as It Ever Was" (CORRECTION: Yahmdallah points out that "Same as it ever was" is a line in that Talking Heads song. The song's title is "Once in a Lifetime"); she worked early on with break dancers; she did the choreography for "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "My Best Friend's Wedding"; and she has helped put on shows for David Bowie, Tina Turner, and Bette Midler. She was also an actor in "Easy Rider." Info gleaned here, here, and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 17, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Early Rock at YouTube
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Lexington Green and others, who recently alerted me to the fact that there are rock-music riches to be unearthed on YouTube. Some quick searching turned up enough clips to form the basis for a good Early Rock 101 course. * Tina Turner and Marvin Gaye: * Buddy Holly: * Eddie Cochran: * Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: * Gene Vincent: * Bo Diddley: * Roy Orbison: * Chuck Berry: I'll let the Elvis freaks do their own searching. Not that there's any real reason to pick a favorite, but ... Well, that Bo Diddley clip does put an especially big smile on my face. (Although I always loved the way Chuck Berry wore a cardigan ...) Plus: Imagine being the man reponsible for the "Bo Diddley beat"! Imagine coming up with a name like "Bo Diddley"!!! Sigh: Giants have roamed this earth. Wikipedia tells me that Bo Diddley will turn 80 in just a couple of years. This informative place seems to be the main Bo Diddley site on the web. Which clip gets your vote? Best, Michael UPDATE: Hmm, the clips in this posting were showing up fine last night. I wonder what has changed since. Hmmm. I notice that YouTube itself seems to be having trouble, so maybe the problem originates at YouTube, not here. Hmm. Anyway, please check back again later. The clips really are terrific. UPDATE 2: Workin' fine again.... posted by Michael at May 14, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Hooked on a Feeling
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Best rock video ever? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 22, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Pop Music Clueless
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Fiance got annoyed when I mentioned that I never listen to Top-40 music any more and have no idea who the leading "artists" are (unless they screw up and make the cover of the supermarket tabloids). To her, such ignorance is not a good thing -- a social defect, actually. And to which I say (sotto voce, naturally): "Pish!" 'Twas not ever so, however. I have pretty decent knowledge of the pop entertainment scene up to the early 1960s with a gradual falling off until the mid-80s, after which most of my information came second-hand. As for pop music itself, I listened a lot through the 1950s especially, but had pretty well abandoned it by the early 70s. You probably won't be astounded to hear me state that the 20-80 or 10-90 or whichever-whatever rule was firmly in place back in the Fab Fifties music scene just as it (probably) is today. I would have my radio on for hours listening through a lot of garbage in the sometimes-realized hope that the DJ would play some of the pop tunes I really liked. This was really a bad use of my time, and I knew it. One cure was to go to a record shop and buy some 45-RPM discs with the pieces I liked. And I did this, though I couldn't afford to do it a lot. But if I had abandoned listening to the pop music stations I would have been left in the dark regarding new songs, a few of which I might like, so I didn't give up on the radio. This went on for years, as I noted. But there was no real alternative because the technology of the time pretty much dictated that pop entertainment was quite centralized compared to what we have now. The big guns were the major-label record companies that had corralled most of the "talent" and decided which tunes to record and promote. Sheet-music publishers were marginalized by the mid-50s, though sheets for pop songs could still be readily found in music stores. The interface with the public was the radio station. At the start of the 50s, many stations had general-purpose formats. Network affiliates broadcast network programs along with a few local shows and recorded music when there were no network feeds. "Independent" stations tended to feature recorded music; some specialized in country or classical music, but most had an eclectic, middlebrow mix. By the early 60s network radio was effectively dead, aside from news broadcasts. General-purpose programming was well on the way out too. Most importantly, the Top-40 format (along with Rock) had been invented and it ruled the ratings roost (New Yorkers: think Cousin Brucie on WABC "chime time" radio 770). One major radio programming innovation of the 60s was the all-news station. If memory serves, when I started at Dear Old Penn in 1966 KYW in Philadelphia and WCBS in New York were all-news. And since I found such... posted by Donald at April 18, 2006 | perma-link | (30) comments

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Buck Owens
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was sorry to learn that the country-western giant Buck Owens died the other day at the age of 76. Buck played a huge role in establishing something I'm very fond of: "the Bakersfield sound," a rough-edged and rip-roaring honkytonk style that contrasts with the genteel, sweeter music that comes out of Nashville. The Bakersfield sound endures today most notably in the music of Dwight Yoakam. It's aggressive music, masculine and raw -- a bar-band sound that arose to please an audience of oil workers and truckers, and the gals who loved them. Buck came by his grit honestly. He was the son of a family of Texas sharecroppers who really did flee the Dust Bowl for a better life. After some years driving trucks and working in the fields, he started performing music. Success didn't come overnight; it took Buck some time to pull his thing together. He worked as a DJ, learning a lot about how make music sound good on the radio. He found some supergifted collaborators, including Don Rich and Harlan Howard. He pulled together a lot of the popular and folk sounds around him -- rockabilly, polka, and Mexican music especially. One of Buck's greatest gifts was in the studio, where he was able to create studio tracks that had the crackle of live performances. Finally -- he was now in his 30s -- he had himself a career in music. And what a career it was. During one four-year stretch in the 1960s, every song he recorded -- 15 of 'em in a row -- went to #1. Buck's best music has the kind of lowdown, kickass wildness that you generally associate with an outlaw, misspent life. Yet, unlike a lot of the other top manly-man, working-class C&W stars, Buck was never a screw-up. He didn't drink; he didn't do drugs; he invested his earnings wisely; he remained based in Bakersfield instead of moving someplace glitzier ... He was a big ol' square, in other words. He even hosted "Hee Haw" for many years. I wonder if this combo of funk, gumption, and wholesomeness was part of what made Creedence Clearwater such fans of his. Buck's musical fortunes waxed and waned more than a few times over the years. Finally, in the mid-1980s, he decided that his moment had passed, and he began to focus on his investments. But country music's style-wheel was turning over once again. When Dwight Yoakam became a big star, Dwight was generous in praise of Buck, and he helped put Buck back in the spotlight. It's pleasing to read that, on the night before he died, Buck performed a 90 minute set of music at his own Bakersfield club. Here's Buck's own website. It features a good biography. Gary Kaufman's appreciation in Salon is informative and moving. A nice Kaufman line: "He was a rebel without a dark side." Wikipedia's article on Buck -- which I notice is remarkably close to Kaufman's Salon... posted by Michael at March 26, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, March 24, 2006

Music Tips
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- WhiskyPrajer, Cowtown Pattie and DarkoV have been listing some of their favorite tear-jerkin' songs. WP also waxes enthusiastic about T-Bone Burnett, whose work (as a performer and a producer) I like a lot. The Patriarch is digging Neko Case. Elvis Costello has some music recommendations too. Best, Michael UPDATE: DarkoV lets me know that he'll be spinning and broadcasting the heartbreaker tunes that WhiskyPrajer, Cowtown Pattie and he have selected on the Internet this Sunday morning, from 9 to 12, here.... posted by Michael at March 24, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, March 20, 2006

Salingaros on the Brahms Cello Sonatas
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was pleased to hear the other day from our friend, the mathematician and architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros. Since he has been very busy recently, I was doubly pleased that Nikos also included an enthusiastic review of a classical music CD. It's a treat to present his review. Nikos has a sophisticated musical palate, and he's tuned into an important cultural phenomenon I know almost nothing about, the independent-recording-company world. I just clicked on the "buy" button myself, and I'm looking forward to what sounds like some very yummy music. Here's Nikos' review. *** THE BRAHMS CELLO SONATAS By Nikos A. Salingaros I wish to share my discovery of an extraordinary recording of these extraordinary works. Johannes Brahms created here, in these two pieces, an orchestral rainbow of sound using only a cello and a piano. The piano was Brahms's instrument, and he was a master at writing pianistic works, but the pairing of the cello adds a sensuousness to the very powerful pianism of the score. (This sonority is further developed in the better-known piano trios). For this reason, I prefer these pieces to Brahms's otherwise impeccable works for solo piano. The two cello sonatas are among his most moving creations, and indeed, of any other composer. It is a pity that they are not as well known as they deserve. Readers know that I am a champion of independent record producers, and I am delighted to have found the recording by the stunningly beautiful cellist Nancy Green. (here's her personal website.) She is joined in this rendition by the world-class (though vastly underappreciated) American pianist Frederick Moyer. Only words such as "sublime" and "majestic" can describe these performances. I strongly recommend immediate purchase of this CD, which couples the only two complete cello/piano sonatas that Brahms wrote: Opus 38 and Opus 99. One can order it online from JRI Recordings. Why is it that these pieces come closest to the greatest music that Brahms ever created; ranking alongside the Piano, String, and Clarinet Quintets? He also wrote the beautiful Violin/Piano and the Clarinet/Piano sonatas, yet the Cello/Piano sonatas are somehow special because of their tonal balance and dark, brooding sonority. If a cello is played well, or is well-recorded, it touches the inner self more deeply than the violin. Some questions now come to mind. (i) What about other recordings of these pieces? (ii) What about other recordings by this team? I'm happy to give my answers to both. (i) My second favorite recording of the Brahms cello sonatas is also produced by an independent label. David Finckel plays the cello and Wu Han the piano, in a very different but no less enjoyable interpretation. (David Finckel is the cellist of the celebrated Emerson String Quartet). This recording has replaced my long-time favorite by Janos Starker and Gyorgy Sebok. Finckel/Han share the same driven, powerful approach, this time much better recorded than the older Starker/Sebok account. I enjoy their interpretation immensely, even... posted by Michael at March 20, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Surroundsound Blues
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I have been working our way through the Joss Whedon sci-fi/Western "Firefly" (buyable, Netflixable). The show, which aired on Fox for only one season in 2002, has a passionate cult of admirers. It has collected over 2000 five-star reviews on Amazon, and it inspired Whedon (and a movie studio, of course) to make "Serenity," a movie version of the same material. The Wife and I are 2/3 of the way through the series now. Not our cup of tea, but we're watching in order to observe and learn, not to judge. We're ever-curious about the state of long-form storytelling, and we enjoy trying to figure out what people get out of the TV-fiction that they love. There's much about the series to be admired. Whedon's ability to pace and vary a season's worth of shows is certainly impressive. He has a likable talent for creating a party-food cosmos consisting of of crunchy pop-cult refs and chewable pop-cult characters -- in this case, Harrison Ford meets "Starship Troopers" meets Tantric sex meets the new butt-kicking gals, etc. Whedon is Mr. Flair when it comes to cross-breeding genres. And he seems eager to feed Americans' insatiable appetite for workplaces presented as extended families. Does anyone have a theory about why Americans are so fond of the fantasy that the workplace should function as a kind of idealized family? My own theory: we expect too much of work, and we spend too much time at the office. But I could be wrong. We are family. No: make that co-workers ... Like I say: nothing that speaks to us, but intriguing nonetheless. Watching the show, though, the main thing that's hitting me is this reflection: Wow, are my sonic-environment tastes different than those of many Americans. "Firefly"'s soundtrack is the TV equivalent of what's so often marketed to us at the multiplex these days: an ever-throbbing electronic gumbo of growls, roars, rumbles, and shazaams, all providing a heightened audio backdrop to the "you're inside the instruments" score, and to the muffled and underplayed (and so, I guess, "real"-seeming) dialogue. And all those karate-chop sounds ... Watching kung-fu movies back in the '70s, would you have guessed that, as cool and funny as they were, the Bruce Lee sound effects -- the swishes, ka-thunks, and yee-hahs -- would still be such presences in popular culture come 2005? The only sins in these kinds of pop-Wagnerian soundtracks would seem to be simplicity, clarity, and silence. It's a kind of pinging/rumbling jumble that I suppose a lot of people like, or at least have come to expect. Perhaps this kind of sonic texture feels familiar to them. Perhaps it's comforting. Maybe it gives them a lift too. Maybe it signals "entertainment!" As we watch "Firefly," all these pinging-growling sounds are coming at The Wife and me impressively reproduced by our surroundsound home-theater system. I blogged here about how I'd had to equip our new TV with a sound... posted by Michael at January 31, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friday, January 13, 2006

Townes Van Zandt
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The price we pay for art? Or what a lot of hard living will do? I was expecting to be annoyed by "Be Here to Love Me," Margaret Brown's new movie about the late Texas folk/country troubador Townes Van Zandt. I had read that the movie wasn't meant to be anything so banal as a straightforward documentary, and that had gotten my hackles up. What could possibly be wrong with simply telling the Townes story, introducing Townes' people, and including a lot of performance footage? Just the facts -- and the music -- ma'am. God damn arty filmmakers, always trying to put themselves between me and the information I want ... As it turned out, I experienced the annoyance I was anticipating only a couple of times, and then only fleetingly. I spent most of the movie feeling blissed-out, in a hurts-so-bad-it's-good kind of way. Is "Be Here to Love Me" the downbeat, elliptical, artily hard-to-categorize movie I was expecting? Sure. Does Margaret Brown leave big parts of the Townes story blurry and unaccounted for, just as I feared? Yup. But, as it turned out, this was all fine by me. Enough of the information comes across; enough of the key people make substantial appearances; enough of Townes' music is heard. Margaret Brown didn't try to make the definitive Townes Van Zandt biography; she's leaving room for others to do that. What she made instead is a glancing and touching mood piece -- a movie that's half about Townes Van Zandt and half about how his music can make you feel. This dreamy, half-story/half-mood approach makes sense given how powerfully Townes Van Zandt's music -- given, in fact, how powerfully the whole Townes Van Zandt thang -- can hit a person. Van Zandt, who died in 1997, was an underground legend. He was a songwriter's songwriter: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Steve Earle, the Black Crowes, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, the Cowboy Junkies, and Gillian Welch have all spoken about his brilliance as a songwriter. He was also a charismatic and low-key performer. And, although he never had a hit of his own, he was loved for the purity and beauty of his records too. "Townes doesn't have non-obsessive fans,'' Margaret Brown said to one interviewer. Count me among them. I stumbled across his music in the early '80s and have been hooked ever since. I've played his music more than any other artist's, and it's a big regret of mine that I saw Townes perform live only once. But what a beautiful show it was. Townes was on a double bill with his buddy and fellow Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark. Both men performed solo, Guy first then Townes, walking out alone, telling their stories and jokes, singing their songs while playing guitar. On stage, Guy Clark was solid, craftsmanlike, companionable, and down-to-earth -- an old shoe, but one with a lot of grit and soul. I love Guy Clark's music, by the way.... posted by Michael at January 13, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Friday, December 30, 2005

Music Category
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It had been nagging at me for a while that we had no Music category in our blog's archives. So I created one -- and then subjected myself to the tedium of riffling through our past work and assigning the appropriate postings to my new category. Please Lord, don't let my hours of dull, dull work go to waste. Please steer a visitor or two to the blog's left-hand column. Please make him or her click on "Our blog archives by category." And then please, please have this visitor click on "Music," and spend a few minutes exploring the postings that turn up. Because you know that some good -- or at least offbeat -- recommendations and jokes are to be found there. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 30, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Saturday, December 17, 2005

To iTunes, or Not to iTunes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Wayne Bremser wonders if the iTuning of all recordings will have a good or a bad effect on the fortunes of jazz. (Link thanks to Design Observer's Michael Bierut.) Alan Little is exasperated with the way iTunes handles -- or doesn't handle -- classical music. I complained recently about what using an iPod Shuffle does to my experience of listening to music. Alan points out a fascinating article about the joys of high-end audio. Great passage: The difference between typical high-end audio imaging and the musical presence of a single-ended amp is the difference between listening to somebody type a manuscript and listening to them read what they've written. Still: iTunes and iPods are damned convenient, no? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 17, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Holiday Suggestions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * There aren't many musicians more purely Modernist -- as in difficult and austere -- than France's Pierre Boulez. That's no reason to shun him, though. A wildly-gifted conductor, he's also an ear-opening composer who puts to use one of music's most ravishing sonic pallettes. Why not give him a try? You may feel confused, you may fall asleep, you may listen once and never again. But my bet is that, no matter how you react, you won't regret giving yourself the experience. (Hint: precision plus lushness is a French speciality. Think of high-end French food. Now think of its equivalent in modernist-music terms ...) Besides, this first-class collection is just too cheap not to buy. * If Boulez sounds like a little much despite my praise, why not treat yourself (or a friend) to a different kind of out-of-the-ordinary music? I semi-recently recommended the work of a couple of downhome titans: the Bahamian genius Joseph Spence, and the Texas roadhouse giant Delbert McClinton. * You've seen a little David Cronenberg and a little David Lynch, and you think you know movie-creepy? You think you know movie-surrealist? Sorry: Amazing as Cronenberg and Lynch can be, you don't really know movie-creepy and movie-surrealist until you've watched the films of the Czech animator Jan Svankmajer. I think his short movies are his best, and many of them are collected in this DVD. Attention: this is handmade, ultra-low-budget work, more akin to Claymation or to ancient dolls and puppets than to Pixar's slick latest. It's very un-cool. If you can get past that and synch up with Svankmajer's imagination and craft, though, watching his films can be like slipping into Western civ's very own icky dream world. * What's more book-fun than flipping around a good collection of quotations, enjoying the shafts of wit and savoring the fragments of wisdom? William Sauer's new "Hip Pocket Guide to Offbeat Wisdom" is my favorite quotation-collection yet because it has a personality of its own. It isn't just a reference book or a collection with a theme, though the quotations here -- from a surprisingly eclectic group of sources -- are plenty terrific. There's also a funky brain and a creative taste-set at work behind the scenes in the collecting and the arranging of the quotes -- in the actual making of the book. This isn't just another quotation-collection in other words. It's a quirky and intriguing work in its own right. * I wrote here about how much I loved Mike Snider's short poetry collection "44 Sonnets." At three bucks a pop, it's a perfect stocking-stuffer for lit-lovers. (It's also -- like "The Hip-Pocket Guide" -- an inspiring example for self-publishers). Go to Mike's blogpage and look in the upper-right corner. You'll see a "buy now" button. Click it. * Those who argue that the US today lacks a truly major literary artist may not have encountered the phenomenon that is Frederick Turner. As an essayist, he fuses cultural... posted by Michael at December 14, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, November 11, 2005

iPods and Viagra
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's an iPod universe; we just happen to live in it. The iPod Nano is selling out, and the video iPod has been a showstopper. Interesting fact: of the 30 million iPods that have been sold since the original iPod was introduced in October 2001, 22 million of them were bought in 2005. I finally joined the iPoddin' hordes a couple of months ago. Until then, I'd resisted for a quirky look-and-feel reason: I dislike the idea of carrying around a small device that's based on a hard drive. Those whirring disks Those little magnetic arms ... A small electronic gizmo that is full of the kinds of delicate moving parts that have failed me three times already? No, I don't think so. Then the iPod Shuffle was introduced. The Shuffle doesn't have a hard drive; it's based on flash memory (which means no moving parts). It's also tiny -- the size of a pack of gum -- and it's relatively cheap. Drop a Shuffle and it'll survive. Lose it and you aren't out very much dough. I find it fascinating that the Nano -- which, like the Shuffle, is flash-memory based -- is such a hit. I wonder if lots of people have the same wary feelings about hard drives that I do. So I bought a Shuffle and became an iPodder. I'm not sure what my final verdict is on the Shuffle. It's tiny, it's easy to use, and it's no source of anxiety -- these are all good things. What I love most about the device is listening to audiobooks on it. Thanks to Felix Salmon for suggesting that I record CD-based audiobooks into iTunes and then listen to them on the Shuffle. (CD-based audiobooks have tracks, just like music CDs do.) The routine involves some tedium -- 30 minutes or so of feeding CDs into the computer, and then moving data onto the Shuffle. But the results are molto groovy. There's something pleasingly miraculous about carrying, say, an entire Teaching Company lecture series around in your shirt pocket. As a device for listening to music, though, the Shuffle has broken my heart. This isn't because the Shuffle has no screen and holds no more than a few hundred songs; neither of these facts bother me. It's more simple and basic than that. It's because I find the experience of listening to music on the Shuffle depressing. As far as I can tell, this has little to do with sound quality per se. The Shuffle's sound is nothing if not clear and rockin'. It seems to have to do instead with the way that the iPod compresses and presents music -- and especially with how the resulting soundwaves hit my brain and my soul. Someone at iTunes' technical HQ seems convinced that the way to overcome the deficits of severe audio compression is to crank the "effects" dial 'way up. The result is that music listened to on the Shuffle... posted by Michael at November 11, 2005 | perma-link | (21) comments

Monday, October 31, 2005

Subway Musicians
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't often ride subways simply because we don't have them here in the Pacific Northwest. But I like riding them, and do it a fair amount when traveling in Europe and even in the U.S. where and when I feel it's safe to do so. For some reason (such as the presence of a captive audience) subways seem to attract musicians. In the London Underground system, musicians tend to be found in the passageways between stations. It's my understanding that they are tolerated by the authorities, being allowed to perform at agreed-upon times and places. The Paris Metro is another matter. You can be clutching a handbar, swaying with the coach, and then the train stops at a station. A slightly seedy-looking young man carrying an accordian steps into your coach. Once the doors are closed and the train gets underway he starts to play, slowly making his way down to aisle, eyes flitting from side to side scanning for les flics. You either avert his eyes and let him pass or, if you feel a wee bit generous, slip him a 50 Euro-cent coin. Some folks like these corridor-based or train-sneaking musicians. I don't, because they add noise and maybe a whiff of stress to an already noisy and sometimes stressful experience. Your reaction might well differ. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 31, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bad Pop
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Long ago, some visitors expressed surprise when I mentioned that it wasn't uncommon for music fans in the mid and late 1970s to think that pop music had run its course. Many of the punk rockers I hung out with, for instance, were convinced that punk rock was pop music's self-immolation, that the time had come for pop to die a natural death, and that new kinds of music would soon replace it. For an illustration of one major reason why this belief was so widespread, check out this list of the top 100 hits from 1976, the year FvB and I graduated from college. Man, that was one seriously bad era in pop music. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friday, September 16, 2005

Blair Tindall on Classical Music
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Dave Lull for pointing out this lively interview with Blair Tindall, oboist and author of "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music," a memoir-ish book about what the world of classical-music performance is really like. Here's one dandy (and heartening) passage from Paul Comstock's q&a with Tindall: Tindall: "A mystical attitude about the place of music can create a devastating effect, driving both audiences and amateur musicians fearing they lack the intellect to understand -- away. Music is beautiful, uplifting, and can make life so much more than it already is, butit is still just music. "To anyone who reads, writes, practices, and performs the stuff, it is ethereal, yet straightforward. Those schooled in music performance understand how much rote practice is involved; scales, arpeggios, repetition. To produce a great performance, even the most talented and renowned player must be applauded for this necessary and diligent preparatory work. "Music is a resource that anyone can understand, and even participate in. Even those without musical training can drum on the beach, enjoy a picnic at the local orchestras parks concert, or sing in a church choir once a year. Music is everywhereand classical music is composed of the same 12 tones and the same rhythms as pop songs and much other music." Why aren't more people as open-yet-sensible about the arts as Blair Tindall? I've already One-Clicked myself a copy of her book. The California Literary Review, which published the interview, is a very lively web arts publication, by the way. I'm having a good time catching up with their interviews and reviews. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 16, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, September 8, 2005

R.L. Burnside
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just learned, a couple of days late, that the ornery and very raw Mississippi Hill Country bluesman R.L. Burnside has died at the age of 78. Though I never saw Burnside perform in person, I've seen him in a couple of movies, and I've spent time addicted to a number of his CDs. I'm a fan, and I'm very sorry he isn't casting his devil-doll spell among us any longer. R.L. Burnside, 1926-2005 Burnside's music is harsh, guttural, trance-inducing stuff -- one-chord jam sessions that are like bulletins from a more primal, funky dimension than anything anyone living has ever known. If the music on this soul-blistering disc doesn't make you break out the hooch and throw your friends an all-night house party, then it can only be because you don't have a pulse. As one Amazon user-reviewer wrote: "'Too Bad Jim' will inspire you to drink bad bourbon and curse around children." High praise! Here's a recent interview with the growly, lowdown old man -- get a load of his drink of choice. Burnside's record company, Fat Possum Records, issues a lot of first-class rootsy blues. Fat Possum's Matthew Johnson tells CNN that Burnside never wanted a music career, and never practiced his guitar either. A fun, small detail: R.L. lived near the charming, out-of-another-era small town of Holly Springs, Miss. -- the same town that was the setting for the wonderfully soulful Robert Altman film "Cookie's Fortune." The Wife and I spent an afternoon in Holly Springs a few years ago, fell in love with the place, and have been plotting to make our way back ever since. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Delbert McClinton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm having yet another "What kind of idiot was I?" moment. This one concerns the Texas blues/honkytonk legend Delbert McClinton. Decades ago, I read something rhapsodic about his greatness. I gave him a few listens, failed to get hooked, muttered something about how the press overdoes everything, goddammit, and that was it. Estupido! With that dumb judgment, I managed to miss out on 20 years of enjoyment. I don't know how or why, but tracks from a semi-recent Delbert CD showed up in my Itunes collection a couple of weeks ago. Ever since I stumbled into this music, I've been listening to little else. So here I am, a rabid new recruit, as eager to rhapsodize as any other Delbert fan. Have you ever had the pleasure? If you were in the kind of ungenerous mood I was apparently in long ago, you might say that Delbert (and his many talented co-conspirators) deliver a competent version of straight-up, flat-out country-blues. Well, that's not quite right. The sound and the voice are nothing if not flat-out, god knows. But Delbert's a natural-born eclecticist. He uses what he wants, and he works in whatever mode appeals. There's nothing in Delbert's music that isn't roots. But the way he brings the ingredients together is something else. Without making a fuss about it, he swirls together soul, blues, border radio sounds, and a whole variety of country musics -- swing, honky-tonk, Texas. Delbert's been around, and he has had more ups and downs than he probably cares to remember. He was born in Lubbock, Texas in 1940; he's just four years younger than fellow Lubbock native Buddy Holly. As a young man, he played backup for giants like Howlin' Wolf and Lightnin' Hopkins; on tour in England in the early '60s, he gave John Lennon some harmonica tips that resulted in the catchy harmonica sound on "Love Me Do." Although he has been nominated for a few Grammys (and has won one or two) and he has had one modest national hit (with "Givin' It Up for Your Love"), Delbert has never been a big star. Needless to say, he's had his battles with a variety of devils too -- booze, drugs, the taxman ... Delbert's an all-around musician: a confident and persuasive harp player as well as an inventive guitarist. As a band-leading vocalist, Delbert has classic Texas-country equipment -- more energy than range, and pipes well-corroded from too much diesel (and no doubt much else). But what he does with that equipment! Delbert is no beady-eyed, deadpan/canny, hold-it-in country singer. You never sense his brain hovering above his repertoire of tricks and stylizations, parceling them out one at a time. Instead, he's loose and out-there. He's also amazingly unapologetic about the soul-man thing -- one of the few white men I'm aware of who can holler "Yowwwwww! C'mon baby! Get on!!!" without looking like a fake, a wannabe, or an ass. At the same time, Delbert's... posted by Michael at July 20, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Salingaros on the Borromeo
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm pleased to run a review of a new recording of a couple of Beethoven string quartets by the brilliant architectural critic, math professor, all-around-civilized-guy, and 2Blowhards fave Nikos Salingaros. Here's Nikos: *** Review of Borromeo String Quartet: Beethoven String Quartets Op. 59, No. 3, "Razoumofsky", and Op. 95, "Serioso" (Image Recordings, 2002) We have here an outstanding first release in what many connoisseurs hope will be a full set of the Beethoven String Quartets. The Boston-based Borromeo Quartet is composed of all young players -- two men and two women. The way they play matches any of the middle-aged central-European gentlemen we have traditionally come to identify with the finest in quartet performances. This recording is so good that I believe it merits a detailed review. ARTISTIC QUALITY. These interpretations rank alongside the "classic" ones of the past, including the Amadeus, Italiano, Vegh, etc. Please take the trouble to verify this for yourselves! That said, I'm going to compare them to three excellent recent complete sets -- those by the Auryn (Tacet), the second Lindsays (ASV); and the Takacs (Decca/Universal). In sheer intensity of playing, the Borromeo equals its competitors. The same goes for control and introspection. Some listeners criticize the Lindsays for rough playing -- the Borromeo achieves the same power and excitement while staying more musical. The Borromeo is as musically perceptive and interpretatively solid as the Auryn, and that's saying a great deal. For example, in the Second Movement of the Third "Razoumofsky", the Borromeo has perfect timing, along with the Auryn and Takacs, whereas the Lindsays are too fast. The Takacs, on the other hand, take the Finale of the Third "Razoumofsky" too fast for my taste, while the Lindsays are too slow. Even though the timing of the Borromeo's performance is actually four seconds faster than the Takacs', the Borromeo feels more natural. In the First Movement of the "Serioso", the Borromeo's pacing is absolutely perfect, while the Takacs (only 13 seconds faster) sound unnecessarily forced. SOUND QUALITY. This recording is simply superb -- I would say truly "state of the art". It surpasses the Takacs, who are compromised by their sound engineers blending out their cello and fiddling with the overall volume for an exaggerated dynamic effect (at times, they have an unpleasant boom). The Lindsays' sound is very good but a trifle boxy. The Borromeo's sound quality equals that of the Auryn, whose superb, transparent recorded sound is the best of all complete sets. Take, for example, the marvelous pizzicatos in the Second Movement of the Third "Razoumofsky". The Auryn's cello is cleanly recorded; the Lindsays' is slightly too prominent; the Takacs' cello appears to tiptoe in and out of the room; whereas in the Borromeo's recording, you can actually hear the cello resonate. Far from being an indistinct boom, it transmits accurate musical information. The same transparent and vivid acoustic is present in the "Serioso" -- the Borromeo's cello is present in the room at... posted by Michael at July 16, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, July 8, 2005

Afropop and Cuban Music
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I loved reading this Stephen Brown essay about Cuban music. (Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily for the link.) It's a review of a new book by Ned Sublette, and it makes a number of wonderful points very concisely. Here's one example: Sublette is saying that [Cuban] music is organized in a way that is fundamentally different from traditional Western music. If you look for adventurous harmonies or difficult melodies you will be looking for complexity in the wrong places. Here, complexity resides in the layers of rhythm. That flat-out statement would have helped me a lot back when I first became interested in Latin and African music. I loved much of what I was hearing, and on all kinds of levels. But most of those levels were physical and emotional. It took unfortunately long for the essential lightbulb to go off in my slow-movin' conscious brain. Finally, though, it did: "Hey, this is as deep and polyphonic as Bach, only the polyphony is in the rhythms!" In terms of knowledge and experience, though, I remain forever stuck at the World Music 101 (or maybe 102) stage: a few King Sunny Ade concerts, a few evenings moving the hips to Ruben Blades, a stack of CDs, a copy of The Rough Guide to World Music that I haven't spent enough time with ... So my taste isn't to be trusted. Despite this, I can't stop myself from recommending the music of the exuberant soukous vocalist and bandleader Kanda Bongo Man, especially those discs of his that feature his godlike onetime guitar player, Diblo Dibala. These guys made zesty, sparkling music that can put you in a sweet, funky trance and keep you there for many happy hours. But time is limited, life's short, etc. -- I'll never be a worldmusic expert, darn it. Still, I was thrilled to stumble across this Public Radio site devoted to Afro-Pop and Cuban music. There's lots of good free listenin' to be had here. I may never become a worldmusic scholar, but at least I now have the chance to fill in a few holes in my knowledge. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 8, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, June 24, 2005

Trio Country-Western Documentary
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I notice that the Trio network is throwing a country-western weekend, with broadcasts of concerts by that melancholic angel Alison Krauss, the rowdy wildman David Allan Coe, the touchingly canny and boobalicious Dolly Parton, Nanci Griffiths, and others. Even though I haven't seen any of these shows yet, I have seen another C&W show Trio is broadcasting this weekend that I can happily recommend: a four hour, four-part part documentary called "Lost Highway: The History of American Country." It's an English production narrated by Lyle Lovett, and it's intelligently informative, stylish in a non-obtrusive way, and helpfully organized. It's as full of vintage footage, sincere interviews, and heart-rending, real-people music as you could hope. Bluegrass, singing cowboys, big hair, honky-tonk, hippie-outlaws -- all are present and all are very well-accounted-for. Is there a better video overview of country music than "Lost Highway" available? I'm not aware of one. Film noir, hardboiled fiction, gangster movies, jazz, and now C&W: sometimes them furriners really do seem to know how to appreciate American culture a lot better than we natives do. Trio's online schedule isn't the most helpful. For showtimes, look for the titles of the series' episodes: "Down from the Mountain," "The Road to Nashville," "Sweethearts of the Rodeo," and "Beyond Nashville." All four episodes are being broadcast on Sunday. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 24, 2005 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, May 23, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Teaching Company has moved into a new on-sale cycle. Some of the packages that are currently cheap are lecture series that I've loved. Maybe some visitors will enjoy them too. It's hard to imagine a better overview of the Western classical-music tradition than Robert Greenberg's "How to Listen To and Understand Great Music." Greenberg does a great job both of setting the music in historical and biographical context, and of explaining how the music works and what you're meant to be hearing. As a lecturer and presenter, Greenberg's an inspired performer himself. He uses beaucoup musical examples and he never lets the energy or enthusiasm level sag -- this is a man who loves his subject matter, and who loves teaching too. If the package seems expensive at $149, remember what you get for the money: 48 lectures, each one of them 45 engrossing minutes long. This is as good a Music-History 101 class as you'll find at the best colleges. Non-math types who are curious about economics should find Timothy Taylor's "Legacies of Great Economists" a terrific way to get started. This is philosophy via -- thank god -- human interest; Taylor uses history and biography as ways to introduce and explore the thinking of his chosen economists: Smith, Ricardo, Marx, Keynes, Friedman, others. Taylor is an enthusiastic and clear presenter with a rare knack for explaining difficult concepts in accessible English. He's also likably modest where economics' claims are concerned. He isn't one of those arrogant technocrats who wants you to believe that econ offers the key to understanding all phenomena. Taylor has the knowledge and the passion, but he has perspective too. For $15.95, this is a very accessible way to begin enjoying the conversation about economics. Alan Charles Kors' "The Birth of the Modern Mind" is first-class intellectual history: an introduction to the thinkers and thoughts of the European 17th and 18th centuries. To my taste, Kors skimps on the ultra-wonderful Scottish Enlightenment -- he's a bit Continent-besotted. But that's a minor failing. As a survey of the era and of many of its major thinkers -- Locke, Hume, Descartes, Voltaire, etc -- this series is a gem. Learn where many of our "modern" ways of conceiving of and discussing the world come from. Kors is an inspired lecturer who manages to be both fiery and level-headed. David Zarefsky's "Argumentation" isn't the how-to-win-debates treatise you might expect from its title. Instead, it's a beautifully organized presentation of a fascinating and much-underrecognized philosophical topic, namely informal reasoning. We're used to thinking of formal reasoning -- science, physics, math, logic, law -- as something worthy of respect and study. But what about the rest of the thinking-methods we use to get by? Rules of thumb. Common sense. Established habits. Experience. Having-a-feeling-for-it. Blundering our way through. These are all examples of how we manage to make good-enough decisions under conditions of imperfect information -- examples of real-life, on-the-job-type thinking, in other words.... posted by Michael at May 23, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few weeks ago, with the usual apprehension, I forked over 48 bucks for a year's subscription to Yahoo!'s Yahoo! Plus service. Yahoo! Plus is like a free Yahoo! account, only on steroids. It supplies extra email-storage space, tons of photo-storage space, minimal ads, and some other goodies and frills. I'm pretty happy with my subscription: what Yahoo! Plus creates for you is a snug little room of your own on the web. Unlike AOL, Yahoo! Plus is part of the Web. It doesn't hide the larger world from you. But unlike a barebones browser, Yahoo! Plus gives you a homebase, as well as many ways and places to stash parts of your brain. Has Yahoo! shaken its post-Google grogginess and regained its edge? I'm impressed: the whole package works well, at least on my Windows 2000 work computer. My couple of cries for help were answered promptly and helpfully. As far as webmail goes, I find that I use my Yahoo! Mail account far more than I do my Gmail account. (Quick question? What's the big whoop about Gmail anyway? The way Gmail brings past messages up as groups and conversations is a nice innovation. But I'm not k.o.'d by Gmail otherwise. Is anyone else?) I'm in serious love with Yahoo!'s Notebook feature. (You don't need Yahoo! Plus to get Notebook; it comes as part of a free Yahoo! account too.) Notebook is nothing but a place to stash notes. But it's a well-done stasher, with better-than-adequate searching and categorizing abilities. Being a serious 3x5 notecard addict, I have a tendency -- OK, a drive -- to collect piles and piles of notes to myself. Stacks of scribbled-on cards -- little bits of my mind -- collect anyplace I settle into for longer than five minutes. Now that I can transfer these scribbles into Notebook, my stacks have shrunk considerably. Some have disappeared entirely, making The Wife very happy. Another benefit: my scribbles are now available to me anywhere I can get to a be-Webbed computer. I no longer go nuts looking for a misplaced 3x5 card. What's got me really hooked on Yahoo! Plus, though, is a feature I hadn't been looking forward to at all: Launchcast. Launchcast takes a moment to explain. It's a music service that enables you to rank and grade songs, artists, and genres. Based on the tastes and preferences you indicate, Launchcast creates an online radio station for you. You go on ranking and grading, and Launchcast goes on tailoring your listening. It's like a personal radio station, only one with no announcer and no ads. Launchcast is all music, all the time -- one song after another, broadcast in perfectly fine stereo. Unlike Netflix's absurd ratings-and-suggestions function -- in a year of subscribing, I don't think I've found a single one of Netflix's suggestions useful -- Launchcast's is a genuine mind-reader, even if it does seem convinced that I like Diana Krall much more than I... posted by Michael at May 11, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Delta Documentary
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Best music in the world," I muttered happily as Mandy Stein's Delta blues documentary "You See Me Laughin'" began. While I have no desire to stand by that as a considered critical judgment, I do really, really love the Delta, and I do really, really love the Delta blues. Earthy, rhapsodic, trance-inducing, full of myths and legends, mud and whisky ... It's music that makes me want to sit in a mildewed sofa on a sagging porch, drink moonshine, watch dawgs and children whose names I can't remember run around, and spend a few lifetimes swapping stories and jokes. This is just a brief posting to alert anyone who might be interested in (or curious about) the Delta blues that Stein's 2002 documentary -- which I hadn't been aware of until I Tivo'd it off the Independent Film Channel -- is a good one. Stein appears to have spent years visiting the Delta and getting to know such homegrown giants as Johnny Farmer, Asie Payton, T-Model Ford, Cedell Davis, Junior Kimbrough, and R.L. Burnside -- all of them artists who make me want to say: Anybody who claims that American art is short on genuine greatness can KISS MY ASS. (Incidentally, not a considered critical judgment either, just a direct expression of how this music makes me feel.) Stein assembles her movie from performances, archives, interviews, and just letting the camera run while she hangs around. Much of what she includes is priceless -- early footage of Burnside when he was a slim, handsome, sly dude with beautiful teeth; an informal solo performance by that exuberant oddball, Asie Payton; T-Model's matter-of-fact, you'd-have-done-it-too account of how he came to kill a man. Stein uses old footage, image processing, and some comic-book effects to give her film a homespun, sensual quality, but she does so in a way that doesn't overshadow her subject matter. Stein keeps the proceedings laid-back, rough-hewn, and casual -- and, given the ultra-organic nature of her material, this was a wise and appropriate choice. What a collection of titanic talents, each one with his own sound, and each one's sound capable of creating a distinctive emotional-acoustic universe. Newbies to the Delta, or to the Delta blues, can find it shocking how much a world unto itself the Delta is, how rich and fragrant Delta culture is, and how powerful a spell Delta life can cast. The accents, for one small example, can get unbelievably thick -- how is this possible in modern-day, TV-and-pop-culture-saturated America? Yet there it is: a living, poetic dialect that makes you want to whip out a Sony and hit the "record" button. Stein occasionally resorts to subtitles to make her interviewees comprehensible to those of us who don't speak Delta; I found myself wishing she'd used subtitles more often. Only an hour and a half from Memphis, the Delta seems like a world out of time, if with antennae, pickup trucks, and other bits and pieces of the... posted by Michael at April 19, 2005 | perma-link | (14) comments

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Jimmy Miller
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I didn't wake up until much too late to the fact that pop music is created not just by writers and performers but also by producers. I was in college, enjoying some locoweed, and groggily inspecting the record jacket of the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street," an album I must have listened to 500 times. The small print featured a name I recognized: Jimmy Miller. Why did that name ring a bell? Eventually it came to me: Miller's name was also featured on another album I loved, this one by the group Traffic. My mind started to make hazy connections. Both discs had a roughed-up, free-wheeling, wildass emotional quality ... The audio on both was complex, yet anything but oppressive ... Hey: maybe this producer-guy Jimmy Miller had something to do with it! So I looked into Jimmy Miller some more. What I learned was that Miller had served as producer on a number of the Stones' best records -- "Beggars' Banquet," "Sticky Fingers," "Let It Bleed" -- as well as on all of Traffic's best discs. As far as I could tell, both Traffic and the Stones in their post-Jimmy-Miller days put out much less interesting records. And finally I found myself thinking: hmm, maybe a producer-guy can be a creative and significant force in his own right. The other day I was feeling nostalgic, and was wondering whatever became of Jimmy Miller. Google didn't come to much of a rescue, alas: Miller died in 1994, pre-web. But this short All-Music Guide bio sketches out the basics of his life and his work. I wonder if a history of popular music that covered the field from the point of view of its producers would be enlightening. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 2, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Encore Haydn
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Terry Teachout has written a lovely appreciation of the music of Joseph Haydn for Commentary magazine. As it happens, I'm going through my second audiobook biography of Haydn, this one by the Teaching Company's Robert Greenberg. For the moment -- and despite being burdened with lousy classical-music ears -- I feel like I've got a small purchase on this whole Haydn thing. Terry's essay zeroes in on one of the key things about Haydn: what a wonderful person Haydn was, and how his nature can be felt in his music. By all accounts, Haydn was that rare creature: an artistic genius of the highest order who was also one of life's Really Good Guys. Let us count some of Haydn's virtues: Hard working. Oh, man, was Haydn ever hard-working. He started out with next-to-nothing, and he wasn't anything like the youthful prodigy many musicians are; he seems not to have come fully into his artistic own until his 40s. It was persistence, discipline, faith, and luck that saw him through, as well as hard, hard work: according to Greenberg, Haydn didn't take his first vacation until he was 58 years old. Yet he became the most-celebrated musical figure in Europe. The English, who were mad for his music, often compared him to Shakespeare. Terry writes that there's reason to think that Haydn may have been the most popular classical-music composer who ever lived. Intelligent, modest, and confident -- yet grateful. Haydn never doubted his talent. Crises of confidence played no role in his life; he always had a sense of what he might be capable of. But he never claimed credit for his talent either. As far as he was concerned, his talent was a gift from God; it was Joseph Haydn's duty and mission to shepherd and deliver this talent as best he could. For Haydn, composing and creating were ways not to show off but to praise God. Cheerful and positive, yet solid and deep too. Haydn was a normal guy not in the sense of being emotionally limited but in the sense of having a full and complete emotional life. His feelings ran deep, but they were appropriate to actual circumstances. Death made him feel sorrow, good fortune made him feel joy. He was anything but a neurotic, or a mood-swinging manic-depressive, and he never went in for that post-Romantic ploy of trying to be fascinating by out-feeling everyone else. Grandstanding and narcissism were simply not his bag. Generous. Haydn was quick to give credit to others; he was the first to acknowledge others' talents and contributions; and he never neglected to recommend worthy others for jobs. How often do we run across topflight artists who are also healthy, outgoing-yet-sensitive, straightforward human beings? His patrons loved him; the musicians he led and cared for loved him; his audiences loved him; his friends loved him. It makes sense that the style he set the template for (this is his big music-history achievement)... posted by Michael at January 19, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments

Sunday, January 9, 2005

Power Pop!
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, I have had only limited success connecting with my sub-teen kids on music when I listen to the Mothers, Monk or Mozart, to say nothing of Eminem, whom I keep from them for the moment. I figure sooner or later they'll come along to less accessible stuff. There is, however, one genre of music that we can share, happily. That's power pop. Do you listen to it or know much what it is? The way I see it, power pop is less a genre than a thread, a continuous line that runs between some of the most playful and spirited music of the past thirty or so years. The genre's base can be found in a couple of different strands: the percussive punchiness of the early Who (think: I Can See for Miles), the catchy melodicism of early to mid-career Beatles (think: No Reply), the jangly guitar harmonics of the Byrds (think: I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better) and the post-Four Freshmen vocalizations of the Beach Boys (think: The Warmth of the Sun). Each of these groups, individually, either headed in different directions or stopped developing as time went on. The Who morphed into bombast and eventually helped lead to metal. The Byrds and its many offshoots (Gram Parsons, Burrito Brothers) pioneered the country rock genre. The Beach Boys ended its creative period with Brian Wilson's downturn. The Beatles just ended. But what if you liked the music just as it was, and felt no need to morph that greatly? In that case, rather than worry over different development of separate creative artists with different ego needs, you'll simply mine the existing material, smooshing together the Byrds, Beatles, Beach Boys and Who (among others) to see what comes of the mix. And happily stay there. And so it has been. Consider The Knack's My Sharona in the seventies. The Romantics, the Las or Marshall Crenshaw in the eighties. Or the collective output of Jellyfish in the nineties. They all tip their hats one way or another to Townsend, Wilson, McCartney, Lennon, McGuinn or others in an attempt to capture infectious good feeling in a short two to three minute time span. Per the above, the genre is a very conservative one. Perhaps this accounts for why, despite being ignored for the most part by the critical establishment, power pop has been lauded in (of all places) National Review. And, in truth, it's as tight and uncompromising a little genre as film noir: under three minutes to create a mood and (usually) bounce through it happily. My kids like it because it is supremely accessible. I like it for the same reason, and also as a break from less accessible music worth listening to for other reasons. The development of power pop has been captured in a couple of different collections. There's a Poptopia series on CD, with collections for the seventies, eighties and nineties. There's also a (to my mind) superior collection entitled Yellow Pills,... posted by Fenster at January 9, 2005 | perma-link | (26) comments

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Blues Snapshots
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I enjoyed blogging recently about what a good time The Wife and I had on a trip to the Mississippi Delta, where we visited the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas. So why not pass along some visuals? Here's a small collection of my bad digital snapshots from our visit to the Biscuit. The foolhardy can click on these thumbnails for bigger views. That's what a field of wet cotton looks like. The weekend we were in the Delta, the picking machines were supposed to be out doing their end-of-the-season picking. But it was 'way too muddy. Does the governor of your state have his own r&b band? That's Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on bass, helping kick the Biscuit off. I loved his keyboardist. She might not look like it, but she was one funky musician. Yep, it was a very wet weekend. We were told that attendance at the Biscuit was only 50 percent of what it usually is. Didn't stop everyone from feeling friendly and happy though. The bluesman known as Sonny Boy Williamson 2 is the patron saint of the Biscuit, and his image and name are everywhere. (There was also a Sonny Boy Williamson 1. He had nothing to do with the Biscuit.) One thing I love about the South is that almost anywhere you turn, something looks like art. You're forever being suprised and delighted by what crosses your vision. Here: little blonde tomboy-girl, matron with New South hat and cellphone, and a rusty image of Sonny Boy. It's always snacktime at the Biscuit. The Wife and I can be adventurous eaters, for Yankees anyway. But there were some snacks we weren't about to try. Part of the fun of the Biscuit is that music is everywhere, not just on the festival's three or four official stages. Musicians set up wherever they can and whale away for whatever you feel like giving them. I don't know whether it's regulated or not, but they were all considerate about not stepping on each others' toes, acoustically speaking. And nearly all of the musicians were damn good. This team got an R.L. Burnside-like, juke-joint, sexy-hypnotic thing going. You can poke your head in any bar and feel pretty sure you're going to run into an informal and enjoyable scene like this one. The hillbilly on keyboards here showed up later that day on the main stage as part of a featured band. Isn't that great? A hillbilly bluesman! Gotta love the south. Lunch time. I suspect the health inspectors haven't visited Miss Cora's place in a couple of decades. But, certified-hygienic or not, Miss Cora's soul food is delicious. No menus: if Miss Cora thinks you're alright, she invites you back into her kitchen to show you what's simmering on her stove. You point at what appeals to you, and she spoons it onto a paper plate. Friends of Miss Cora's came and went, making conversation, walking off with food, and... posted by Michael at December 12, 2004 | perma-link | (14) comments

Friday, December 3, 2004

Francis Davis on the Blues
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of months ago I took The Wife to a blues festival in the Mississippi Delta town of Helena, Arkansas. Its official name is the King Biscuit Blues Festival, but locals and veteran festivalgoers refer to it in fond shorthand. They say things like, "Hey, are you headin' over to the Biscuit?" and "The weather's even worse than it was at last year's Biscuit!" Well, The Wife and I headed over to the Biscuit despite the rain, and we had ourselves a great time. We'd had our first encounter with the Delta two years ago, passing quickly through it during our first spin ever through the (non-New Orleans) South. Though we both fell in love with more or less the entire south, we tumbled hard for the Delta. Have you ever been? It's a mysteriously wonderful place -- unremarkable in most ways, flat, and dirt poor. When you're driving along and first awake to the fact that you're now in "the Delta," you may wonder what the fuss is all about. But the place seeps into you. (It seeps into many people, in any case.) I'm anything but a superstitious or woo-woo guy, yet it didn't take long -- as in a half an hour -- before funny and marvelous things started happening to my thought processes. My time-sense shifted, and various guardians that normally supervise my brain's workings dissolved in the hot air. My thoughts were swimming. The world seemed like an endlessly braiding and unbraiding quilt of interwoven stories and songs. I had the feeling that if I went out into the middle of any of those nondescript cotton fields and turned over any old rock, ghosts would emerge and would start singing songs and telling stories. Everything seemed to mingle in fragrant, beguiling, sexy, and somewhat frightening ways. The Wife felt the intoxication as strongly as I did, and we decided then and there that we wanted more Delta in our lives. Which is why I arranged for us to head to the Biscuit. The festival was about as fun as could be. Well, I shouldn't be so cowardly: I found it not just fun but entrancing -- easygoing, rewarding, and deep. Doing the Biscuit isn't just about the music, not by any means. It was a total gestalt -- the people, the food, the pace, the vibes, and more: the whole easygoing, drunk-on-soulfulness thang of it. The food, by the way, is almost all fried. Delicious -- but it took us a couple of weeks to recover from it. The Wife and I stayed at a beautiful b&b in Clarksdale, a onetime cotton town of around 20 thousand people that's often referred to as the home of the blues. Given the number of blues greats who were born or who lived there, or who (in Bessie Smith's case) died there, Clarksdale is sometimes said to be the birthplace of the blues. Clarksdale-ites include Son House, T-Model Ford, Pinetop Perkins,... posted by Michael at December 3, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Joseph Spence
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been listening to and loving this CD by the amazing Bahamian guitarist-singer Joseph Spence. His music is full of funky front-porch fingerpicking; the kinds of odd harmonies and microtones you hear in the rawest gospel; and the most original vocalizing I've heard since I treated myself to Asie Payton. Spence seems to love diving heedlessly into muddy rhythmic predicaments; he emerges victorious every time. His sound is as lowdown as the Delta blues, but it's set to joyful island beats -- the sacred and the profane, the light and the dark, all of it borne along on a current of rum and laughter. My mind struggles with the mixture, but my ears couldn't be happier. Spence is known for his giant but laid-back personality; his unself-consciously dazzling, contrapuntal guitar work (Ry Cooder's a fan); and for being one of the oddest, most wonderful vocalists ever. (Van Morrison's a fan too.) What a stylist! He's as off on his own asymetrical-cubist planet as Thelonious Monk. There are passages when his vocal line seems to be made up entirely of gargles, chortles, yelps, and growls; there are times when you wonder if conventional "singing" is playing a role at all. Spence mutters to himself; he coughs; he's as incomprehensible as Popeye ... Yet his singing works: it swings, and it moves you. (Or moves me.) He may be the most eccentric great vocalist I've ever listened to. Here's a loving website devoted to Joseph Spence; here's another. Here's an Amazon list of Spence recordings. You can sample a lot of Spence's tracks at this Amazon page -- click on "Listen to all." I can't resist copying-and-pasting this exchange between Joseph Spence and one of his admirers: Young Folklorist: Mr Spence, I couldn't help noticing that you play all of your songs in the same tuning, dropped-D tuning, and the same key, D major. Why is that? Spence: I used to know all them keys! I knew 'em all: A, and B, and D, and F, and H...I used to know all them keys! YF: Well, Mr Spence, if that's true, then why do you play everything in the same key of D? Why don't you use any of those other keys? Spence: I got tired of 'em! He's not just a living work of folk art; he's a sage! I hereby nominate Joseph Spence for immortality. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 2, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, October 25, 2004

Rick James R.I.P.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was saddened to learn that funkmeister Rick James has died at age 56. (I was also startled to learn that he died back on August 6th. How did I miss that? Lesson: don't look to 2Blowhards for your breaking news.) I never paid much attention to his music beyond the immortal "Super Freak," but "Super Freak" was more than alright with me. For a couple of decades, "Super Freak" has been Super Effective at getting people out of their seats and onto the dance floor, and at encouraging them to feel happy and goofy too. What a sexy party song it is. "Rick James was a brilliant, innovative singer/songwriter/producer," wrote the groupie-turned-author Pamela DesBarres, "a swaggering, strutting, pompous picture of decadence and dastardly obsessions." Bless his departed soul, eh? In any case, it's hard to think of many songs that do as good a job at conveying the silly, hyperbolic, cartoonish, absurd sensation of feeing young and all-sexed-up as well as "Super Freak" does. Some Rick James facts I learned while scanning the web today: He was the third of eight children. His mother was a former dancer who made a living running numbers. "She raised us strict Catholics," James recalled. But he always lived a wild life. By his mid-teens, he'd already tried marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. He joined the Army at 15, deserted, signed with Motown, got ratted out by someone, and spent a year in the brig. By the way ... Kids: DO NOT take Rick James as a role model. This way of conducting a life WILL NOT TURN OUT WELL. His album "Street Songs," which included "Super Freak," sold 3 million copies, and stayed on the American charts for over a year. "She's a very kinky girl/ the kind you don't take home to mother/ She'll never let your spirits down/ once you get her off the street ... She's alright/ She's alright/ She's alright/ That girl's alright with me -- Yeah!!!!" Sigh: lyrics to make me feel all warm and nostalgic inside ... During the "Street Songs" tour, James would light a reefer while on stage, and dare the cops to arrest him. Although he continued writing, recording, performing and producing, James's career never reached anything like that kind of peak again. He's generally considered to have fused the riff-based funk of James Brown with pop and punk. Onstage, he was the spangly, prancing embodiment of arousal itself, a combo of George Clinton and Little Richard, and as irresistable an image as Mick Jagger in his prime. Me and my punk friends were snotty about funk at that time, but even we thought "Super Freak" was so coked-out sexy/crazy you just had to love it. Many an evening otherwise devoted to Richard Hell, The Ramones, and Lene Lovich reached its climax when "Super Freak" was put on the turntable. But by the late '80s, Rick James's life had crashed. Hiphop had overwhelmed James's brand of funk on... posted by Michael at October 25, 2004 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, October 15, 2004

Lifetime Learning Update
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More temptations for lifetime-learning junkies. I'm blessed with ears that crave Western-classical-music sounds, but I'm cursed with a mind that struggles to comprehend what the hell's going on in there. Sad to say, but while at a classical-music concert here's the kind of chatter that runs through my head: Hey, I think I recognize that tune! Which may mean that this is one of those "theme and variation" sections, right? Or was I daydreaming for a while there? ... Hey, I'm not sure I can tell which key this thing is in any longer! Which may mean that we're in the "development" section, right? Or was I daydreaming again? ... Hey, things are getting energetic around here! Which may mean that the climax is approaching, right? But I've only counted two movements so far, and don't most of these things have three movements? Or even four? Damn, I must have been daydreaming for a while there ... As a consequence, while I love plain ol' listening to the music, I also appreciate being taken through it by the hand. Lucky me, The Wife has a first-rate classical-music mind, zero snobbery about her knowledge and insights, and tons of patience. But I can't turn to her for coaching all the time. So I've found and developed a shelfful of history-and-technique resources. D. F. Tovey is Da Man where classical-music analysis is concerned; his many volumes of Essays in Musical Analysis are major ear-and-brain-openers. But they're also a demanding go, so I've spent more time with some accessible works. Robert Winter's CD-ROMs offer biographical and historical context as well as bar-by-bar musical analyses -- with visuals accompanied by straightforward English -- of how the pieces he discusses are put together. They're phenonemally good; they're also, as far as I can tell, all out of print, though I see that used copies of his Beethoven disc can be bought here. The Teaching Company's Robert Greenberg is sensational too, and his many music-history lecture series can be enjoyed as simply as audiobooks -- in the car or while exercising, for example. Richard Fawkes' Naxos productions, The History of Opera and The History of Classical Music, are also first-rate; I blogged about them here. A new addition to my shelf is Jeremy Siepmann's CD-based audiobook, Life and Works: Josef Haydn. Given that I didn't get much out of Siepmann's analysis of The Four Seasons, I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful and enjoyable I found this package. Perhaps Siepmann is simply more comfortable presenting classical music in historical context than he is presenting analyses of it. In any case, it's a lovely work. Siepmann delivers about as much Haydn biography as I needed to hear, spares us the usual scholarly digressions, quotes from a generous number of original documents (diaries, letters, reviews), provides a decent amount of historical context, and supplies first-class musical examples. He's a gentlemanly and gracious guide; The Wife, who listened to the discs with me,... posted by Michael at October 15, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Some Documentaries: "Snapped"; "If I Should Fall From Grace With God"; "Building a Skyscraper"; "Lost in La Mancha"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some documentaries that are out there to be enjoyed: Snapped. This Oxygen Network true-crime series about women who have killed their mates is a hoot, though one that the sexes are likely to enjoy in different ways. The show takes the basic "American Justice"/"City Confidential" true-crime template, shrinks it to 30 minutes, and then bathes it in Oxygen, er, estrogen. The graphics are party-colored; the narration is by an offscreen Laura San Giacomo; and the stories are awash in a tide of psychobabble from psychotherapist-experts, all of it aimed at trying to understand the feelings of the woman killers. Not a word about how the hubbies might have felt about being murdered. The Wife watches "Snapped" clucking happily, the way she does when yakking with girlfriends about women and their bad choices. Me, I find the combo of female mate-killers and female p-o-v absolutely, positively terrifying: Can this really be what goes on inside women? It doesn't seem to make any sense at all!!! -- and my experience of total and utter woman-incomprehension scares me far more deeply than the case studies onscreen do. Perhaps the most frightening thing about the shows I've seen so far has been the way all of the killers -- prior to the moment they "snapped" -- had been devotedly "working on their relationships." Do women really think in these terms? The show is broadcast numerous times in the course of the week. You can check out the scedule at Oxygen's "Snapped" page, here. I can't resist copying and pasting this passage from Oxygen's own p-r material: Let's be honest: we've all had at least one moment in which we felt as though we could snap. Even if you're in the "perfect relationship", chances are, you've probably said (or even just fleetingly thought) "I'm going to kill my husband!" So what separates those of us who do, from those who don't? Why can some women cope with the everyday - or even not-so-everyday - stresses of married life without ever resorting to violence, while others "snap" and murder their mates? Oxygen's newest half-hour, true crime series, Snapped, aims to answer this very question: what causes a woman to kill her mate? That's a pretty accurate representation of what the show's like. To which I respond: Eeeeek! Thanks to GNXP's Godless (here), who recently linked to an interesting study showing that female and male brains start to organize themselves differently even before the onset of puberty. If I Should Fall From Grace: The Shane MacGowan Story. I found this documentary about Shane MacGowan, the onetime lead singer for the Irish punk band The Pogues, fascinating and moving despite the fact that, as musicians, Shane and The Pogues never meant much to me. The Pogues made their mark by setting traditional Irish sounds to wildman punk beats; Shane was infamous for being one of the most self-destructive performers ever -- during one long stretch, he was using heroin and drinking a... posted by Michael at September 9, 2004 | perma-link | (10) comments

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Guest Posting -- Tatyana on the Russian-Bard Scene
Dear Vanessa -- Honest now: did you have any idea that there's a substantial Russian-bard scene in America? What's a "Russian-bard scene," you may ask? Why, Russian poet-troubador-singers who have a substantial, mostly-emigre fan base, what else? I know a tiny bit about this because 2Blowhards visitor Tatyana told me about it. Tatyana's an amazingly interesting person -- a Russian emigree with an engineering degree who works in Manhattan as an interior designer. I've been lucky enough to swap a lot of emails with her, and to spend a couple of lunches gabbing with her too. I've gotten a lot out of comparing notes; I've even managed to get her to do some personalized art-coaching. Up next on the Netflix queue, for example: "Masters of Russian Animation." Tatyana tells me that one of the animators whose work is included is really brilliant. I've badgered Tatyana a few times about putting some of what she knows into print. So I'm pleased she's taken the time to pull some info and thoughts toether, and that she's given me permission to run her words on the blog. [Editor's note: I lifted the images in this posting from this site here. I hope that's OK -- if it isn't, I hope someone from the site will let me know. I'll take them down pronto. Nice photos, though!] Here's Tatyana on the Russian-bard scene in America. It is all true, you see. There is a Russian conspiracy in this country. Thousands of people on both coasts (and between, in ever-increasing numbers) belong to the network. Old, veteran members form the compact organizing nucleus, and although they are not being paid themselves, they collect fees from the regulars for various organizational needs. What's more, Russians from other countries are involved. Networks in different parts of Europe, the Middle East, Canada and, I suspect, Australia know of each other and coordinate their activities. All right, I see you're sitting on needles. I want to introduce to you the Club of Self-Written Song of the U.S., aka the Bards Club Of America. Or: the Club of the Self-Created Song; or the Author's Song Club; or the Singing Poets Club, etc. See, there is a long-standing disagreement about of what the proper name should be. Ill call it KSP, by Russian abbreviation. I am afraid that my pen is unable to present in compact prose the detailed history of the movement. There is plethora of available material on the subject I'm having a hard time organizing in a concise manner. I'm sure there are many erudite people out there wholl be shocked by my grossly inadequate outline. Let's just say that I'm writing this as a first introduction to the subject. So, the history of the bard scene, or how I see it. In the country formerly known as the Soviet Union, everybody led a double existence. And in this multilayered world, songs by bards were part of the hidden, sincere, human, core side of our lives. Like contraband... posted by Michael at July 24, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Theme Song for the New Urbanism
Dear Vanessa -- I've been enjoying the heck out of James McMurtry's tasty and rockin' alt-country CD Too Long in the Wasteland. His music works for me in a way many people say Springsteen's works for them. McMurtry's tone --cussed, sardonic, and bitter, if also careworn and companionable -- brings his stuff alive in a way that really delights me, while Springsteen's earnestness and myth-making almost always make me roll my eyes like a bored, disbelieving teenager. McMurtry's got the kind of sly deadpan you might associate with a bearded trucker; a hyperarticulate, steely mind; and a surprising capacity for the tender and the mournful. I find the combo a treat. I can't resist the pleasure of typing out some of the lyrics to his song "I'm Not From Here." Imagine them sung by a rough-edged, still-waters-run-deep kind of guy; imagine a loose-limbed and fleet-footed band playing flyin'-down-the-highway music. I'm not from here I just live here Grew up somewhere far away Came here thinking I'd never stay long I'd be going back soon someday It's been a few years Since I got here Seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go Crowds assemble, they hang out awhile Then they melt away like an early snow Onto some bright future somewhere Down the road to points unknown Sending postcards when they get there Wherever it is they think they're goin' I'm not from here I just live here Can't see that it matters much I read the papers and I watch the nightly news Who's to say I'm out of touch? Nobody's from here Most of us just live here Locals long since moved away Sold their played-out farms for parking lots Went off looking for a better way Onto some bright future somewhere Better times on down the road Wonder if they ever got there Wherever it was they thought they'd go Hit my home town A couple years back Hard to say just how it felt But it looked like so many towns I mighta been through On my way to somewhere else I'm not from here But people tell me It's not like it used to be They say I shoulda been here Back about ten years Before it got ruined by folks like me What a fab, jaunty-depressive evocation of the just-passing-through, ashtray-ish Nowheresville we've transformed so much of America into, and of the lost-but-in-a-hurry deadend that American adulthood so often turns out to be. Good lord, the bleary and clueless things we choose to do with our freedom and our prosperity. Come to think of it, I wonder if McMurtry has read James Kunstler's wonderful New Urban-ish jeremiads The Geography of Nowhere (buyable here) and Home From Nowhere (buyable here). McMurtry's terrific disk can be bought here. Here's McMurtry's website. Here's a good profile of McMurtry by Roy Kasten. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

I'm a huge, although half-educated, fan of the Austin-based branch of the alternative country-music scene. I suspect lots of people would enjoy this music as much as I do, but it isn't as well-known as it deserves to be. The Texas alt-country world got its start back in the '60s when a group of hippie and local musicians who didn't want to go the glitzy Nashville route created their own scene. By comparison to commercial c&w, their music is rootsy, loose, personal, literate, and open to incorporating folk and rock elements. The gods of this scene, IMHO, are Townes Van Zandt (this CD here is priceless), Guy Clark (I love this CD here), and Jimmie Dale Gilmore (this here is tiptop). Currently on my CD player's endless-repeat is the music of someone I'm relatively new to, James McMurtry. I love the two CDs of his that I've listened to so far. (They're buyable here and here.) McMurtry, who's the son of the novelist Larry McMurtry, is a firstclass singer/songwriter: pungent and funky, and harder-rocking than most of the alt-country crowd. He writes tunes that are catchy but that don't shy from the sour and the bleak, and he leads a loose-limbed, bluesy and lowdown band. The way he brings together the regional, the embittered, and the ruefully triumphant reminds me of the Welsh folk-rocker Richard Thompson. McMurtry's also one terrific lyricist. Like some of the others in the alt-country scene, McMurtry is such a good writer that he can make you think that the current literary world should just kiss your ass. His words are defiant, rocky, eloquent, and drily funny, and they're set to lonesome-highway music that makes you want to get drunk and make a fool of yourself. What's not to like? I can't resist typing out a few examples: It's a small town Can't sell you no beer It's a small town, son May I ask what you're doin' here? ... And my judgment may be shakey And my shoes are soaking through 'Cause the weeds are wet And I haven't yet Made any sense of you. ... I wrecked the El Camino Would have been DWI Just walked off and left it Layin' on its side. Troopers found it in the morning Said it's purely luck I wasn't killed I probably oughta quit my drinking But I don't believe I will. ... Mama used to roll her hair Back before the central air And sit outside and watch the stars at night. She'd tell me to make a wish. I'd wish we both could fly. Don't think she's seen the sky Since we got the satellite dish. ... For knowledgeable (and fun to read) commentary and info, be sure to check in with The Fat Guy, here. Here's an Amazon Customer's Guide by someone who's listened to a lot more of the music than I have.... posted by Michael at June 8, 2004 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Making Music
Morton Subotnick's CD-ROMs Making Music (here) and Making More Music (here) are brilliant music-composition programs for kids that many adults may enjoy too. They're nursery environments for music-making; Subotnick has managed come up with music-making tools that are as simple, basic, and fun to manipulate as building blocks and finger paints. Subotnick himself is a longtime and terrific composer of electronic music whose best-known piece is probably "Silver Apples of the Moon." (It's buyable here.) You can read an interview with him here. Here's his own site. Here's a site he's organized where kids can play with music. It doesn't work very well on my computer, while the CD-ROMs work flawlessly. Fair warning: the view of music that Subotnick presents is a Modernist one. You don't learn or experience historical forms; instead, you explore music very abstractly, as sound arranged in time. As it turns out (and IMHO, of course), this is ideal for experimenting, and for taking your first music-composition babysteps. Subotnick describes "Making Music" as a "composing space," and that seems about right.... posted by Michael at May 26, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, April 29, 2004

My One Opera Tip
Dear Friedrich -- I spent years as baffled by opera as most hetero-male clods are. Hard not to marvel at the singing and music, of course. But as theater ... Good lord. I stared at those fat, lousy actors and wondered how the fans around me could possibly find the spectacle so enthralling. These days, though, I've finally got it, and I've become an opera fan myself, if of the ever-a-beginner type. The Wife and I, in fact, would see an opera once a month if only we could afford the luxury. Being middle-class instead, we manage to treat ourselves to excellent seats (at retail prices too -- no bargaining for us!) about twice a year. Still: bliss. My tip for other clods who, despite everything, are intrigued by opera? To get yourself started out on the right foot, skip the 19th century warhorses and go Baroque instead. Why? Because the key thing to "get" about opera is that it isn't meant to be realistic, it's meant to be symbolic. (It's the greatest of art forms, but it's also the silliest of art forms.) And the 19th century warhorse operas you're likely to be dragged to at first are often semi-realistic in style, which can confuse lunkheads like us. You're likely to sit there thinking, Sheesh, why isn't this more like a movie? Baroque opera, on the other hand, is flagrantly unrealistic. There's no mistaking it for anything but a super-stylized artform, more akin to ballet or pantomime than to movies. Also, hey, Baroque operas feature buckets of great tunes. Handel's the Baroque-opera Man, as far as I'm concerned. A typical Handel opera has an adorable, mythological love-farce plot, and a couple of dozen of the best songs (aka "arias") you'll ever hear. An evening at a Handel opera makes for wonderfully sumptuous and accessible -- as well as, ahem, moving and beautiful -- entertainment. His operas have always left me completely happy. If you want to try Handel's opera work out on CD before committing to an expensive opera ticket, don't buy a CD of one of his operas -- too much recitative (aka "the boring stuff between the tunes"). Buy a collection of his arias instead. Given that Handel was, IMHO, as great a composer of touching/sweet/whistlable tunes as Mozart was, any collection of his arias should be a winner. Why not try this one here? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2004 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, April 5, 2004

"Standing in the Shadows of Motown"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just finished watching the DVD of the documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown." Have you seen the film? I think you'd love it. I certainly did. Go now and rent. The film's about the house musicians at Motown Records during its Detroit (ie., Hitsville, USA) heyday, from the late 1950s until the early 1970s, when the label moved to L.A. These guys, who called themselves The Funk Brothers, were the instrumentalists on such songs as "My Girl," "Mickey's Monkey," "You Really Got a Hold on Me," "Do You Love Me?," "Heat Wave," and "Ain't too Proud to Beg" -- as far as I'm concerned, a good percentage of the happiest music ever made. In fact, the documentary claims that The Funk Brothers played on more #1 hits than Elvis, the Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and the Beatles put together. Yet as individuals they're barely known. Making them known, of course, is the documentary's purpose. As a movie, it's merely OK-to-pretty-good. It's organized around a reunion concert, and it includes interviews, a handful of staged recreations, some archival footage, and the usual collection of stills and knickknacks. Some quibbles: the film gets a little dreary as it moves into the late 1960s -- but, heck, the late '60s were pretty dreary. The narration, co-written by (sigh) Ntozake Shange, is almost childishly overripe; I could have used a lot less rhetoric and lot more information. And while some of the singers who perform in front of the band in the reunion concert bring their own joy onto the stage (Chaka Khan, Bootsy Collins, Joan Osborne), a couple of the performers are earnest drags. (Speaking of which, can anyone explain the appeal of Meshell N'Dego-what's-her-name? I do my best to be generous to artists and performers, but for the life of me I can't find a single good thing to say about Meshell. Well, OK: she's got a better voice than I do. But aside from that, sheesh: her performing style is masked, introverted, superior -- it seems intended to deflate the material she's performing. I can't see how anything she does could appeal to anyone who isn't a card-carrying member of the Women's Studies division of the Rainbow Coalition.) But why quibble when the material is as sweet and fascinating as it is here? I remember Camille Paglia once writing something like, the French and the academics can theorize away, but all you need to do to smash their intellectualizing to smithereens is walk past a gospel church on Sunday. That's what watching this movie was like for me -- like walking past a gospel church on Sunday. If your heart doesn't feel like bursting with gratitude, amazement and pleasure a half a dozen times while watching this movie, well, forget being my friend. Whatever my reservations about the filmmaking, hats off to Paul Justman (the director) and Allan Slutsky (the producer, as well as the writer on whose book the movie is... posted by Michael at April 5, 2004 | perma-link | (21) comments

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Histories of Music
Dear Friedrich -- How many subjects would you say you're interested in beyond the Intro-to, 101 or 102 level? In my case, the answer is "very few." On the other hand, tons and tons of subjects interest me right up through the intro-to level. In fact, where some subjects go -- econ, philosophy, Western art music -- I'm such fan of good introductory surveys that I go through example after example. I just love a good introductory text. I've been through probably 20 intros to economics, and as many intros to philosophy and Western art music too. Where some subjects go, I don't know why, I seem to get intense pleasure out of being marched through the basics all over again. Jokes permitted at this moment about what a thick skull and a slow brain I must have. Funny consequence #1 of this habit of mine: I'll never be anything like an expert where econ, philosophy or Western art music are concerned. Funny consequence #2: I know the basics of these subjects pretty well by now. Funny consequence #3: I've become a connoisseur of well-done intros-to. And, hey, I've got a brand-new tip. Until now, my favorite intros to Western art music were two Robert Greenberg audio series for The Teaching Company: his How to Listen to and Understand Great Music (buyable here) and his How to Listen to and Understand Opera (buyable here). Greenberg's an amazing teacher and lecturer, and they're both sensationally good packages. As always with the Teaching Company's products: buy them only when they're on sale. Not to worry, though, because they go on sale two or three times a year. When they're on sale they're fantastic bargains. But I've just finished going through a couple of Naxos packages that I think would make even better first-times-through -- Richard Fawkes' History of Classical Music, and his History of Opera. (Amazon is out of stock, but you can buy copies from Audiobooks online, here.) Like Greenberg, Fawkes is organized and helpful. His text is beautifully read by Robert Powell, and the musical examples are well-selected. Where Greenberg's an enthusiast and a showman, Fawkes is suave and lowkey, yet friendly and approachable. The big advantage Fawkes' intros have as first-times-through is simple -- they're much shorter than Greenberg's. Sounds silly and basic, I suppose, but it matters. To move through all that material so fast, Fawkes has to present it from far, far overheard. That's very helpful in terms of helping you get a sense of where the landmarks are, how the elements interrelate, and what the general outlines are like. And, like Greenberg, Fawkes is strikingly good at something I admire a lot: summing up the significance of a work, an artist, or an era quickly, in a very short space, and doing so in a way that's clear and vivid yet that actually does justice to what's being described. This may sound easy; it's anything but. Imagine trying to explain Italian neorealism -- the look, the... posted by Michael at March 4, 2004 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Rewind -- The Economics of Mozart
Note -- FvBlowhard and I are pleased with some of our very earliest blogwriting, and we're pained that nearly all of it went unread. It takes a serious while to find a reader or two in the blogosphere. So we've decided to unearth some of that early writing and give it a fresh chance; now and then we're going to indulge ourselves and re-run some of our earliest postings. Here's hoping a few readers get a kick out of them. Given that I'm simply copying and pasting into a new posting, comments will be left behind. Apologies for that -- I don't know how to work around the problem. But don't let that keep anyone from commenting this time around. We're as eager as ever to yak about this stuff. In this episode of Rewind, FvB takes a look at The Economics of Mozart. Michael -- Everyone knows the story of Mozart, the composer who was so childishly self-indulgent and self-destructive that, despite his immense gifts, he descended into poverty, illness and an early grave. After all, how could such a talent have failed to make a brilliant career in Vienna, the "Holy City" of music, except by self-sabotage? Actually, Mozarts fate seems to have been more the result of the failings of late 18th century Viennese economy than any flaws of his personality. Viennas economy was quite simply based on being the capital of the Hapsburg Empire. Cash to sustain its opulence migrated to Vienna via imperial taxes and feudal rents from productive centers as far apart as Belgium, Italy, Poland and the Balkans. As Peter Hall puts it in Cities in Civilization: Vienna thus remained essentially a capital of conspicuous consumption, not a center of productionThe aristocracy enjoyed fabulous wealthThe professions and the servicesmedicine, law, education, entertainment and informationministered to them, at adequate if not lavish terms. Industry was small-scale, inefficient and badly paidThis was an extraordinarily backward city technologically and organizationally Overall, in Vienna few lived well and the poor, who were the great majority, lived miserably. In the early 18th Century, Hapsburg Emperor Charles VI recognized the Austrian empires economic backwardness as a strategic liability. When his daughter Maria Theresa came to the throne, she began administrative and economic reforms. These reforms did not entail any liberalization of the economy; rather, quite the contrary, they focused on creating a centralized bureaucracy directly responsible to the monarch. Maria Theresas political and economic model, in short, was not England but the France of Louis XIV. Maria Theresas reforms were continued after her death by her son Joseph during the 1780sthe decade of Mozarts career in Vienna. While not very interested in private enterprise, the Hapsburgs were very supportive of music and had been for over a century. The houses of the great nobles imitated them in this. As a result, music throve in Vienna, and musicians could too--but only if they attracted patronage. Gluck, Haydn and Salieri spent most of their lives on either imperial or aristocratic salaries.... posted by Michael at February 22, 2004 | perma-link | (24) comments

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Teaching Company Lecture Series on Sale
Dear Friedrich -- I've blogged before about The Teaching Company, which sells recorded versions of college-level lecture series. I've tried a lot of their products and am super-enthusiastic about some of them. Happily, The Teaching Company puts nearly all of its courses on sale at some point or other. At the moment, many of my favorites can be bought at amazingly good prices. Click on the link that follows the lecturer's name to find a page with links to all his courses. Patrick Allitt (here): I found his "American Religious History" series fantastic, raved about it here, and am looking forward to listening to his "Victorian Britain." Alan Charles Kors (here): He lectures about the intellectual history of 17th and 18th century Europe. I thought both "The Birth of the Modern Mind" and "Voltaire and the Triumph of the Enlightenment" were blazingly good. My thoughts about them are here. Timothy Taylor (here): I can't imagine a better way for a mush-headed LibArts type to finally crack Econ than by starting with this short series here, then moving on to this one here. But listen to all his courses eventually; I have, and I got a lot out of each one. I've expressed enthusiasm for Taylor's work here and here. Robert Greenberg (here): He's the Teaching Company's go-to guy for music history, and he's sensationally good. I've listened to both his general intro to Western classical music (here) and his Bach series (not currently on sale) -- it'd be hard to better either one. If prices like $34.95 or $64.95 strike anyone as stiff: well, for Pete's sake, get real. These are fabulous courses that are many enjoyable and informative hours long, and that are far better than anything I took at an expensive, if lousy, Ivy university. Plus, hey, when you're done with them you can generate some good karma for yourself by passing them along to a friend or by donating them to your local public library. Spread the knowledge -- and the pleasure. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 22, 2003 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Sociobiological Song Lyrics
Michael: I recently heard an old song by the Georgia Satellites, Keep Your Hands to Yourself. The lyrics of the song have always cracked me up, particularly those of the second verse: I said, Baby, baby, baby, why do you treat me this way? Im still your lover boy, I still feel the same way. She told me a story about free milk and a cow She said No hugging no kissing until I get a wedding vow. My honey, my baby, dont put my love upon no shelf. She said, Dont hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself. After the song was over, I tried to express to myself what it is about the song that I like. What I came up with was: The song is just sososociobiological. (Hey, I was on my way to work, and not entirely awake.) Well, my terminology may be infelicitous, but the idea of song lyrics that say something (pithily) about human nature stuck with me. Are there any you would nominate for pith, wit and insight? Cheers, Friedrich P.S. I never knew a thing about the Georgia Satellites until I went looking for the lyrics to this song (which, by the way, appear incorrectly in most places on the Internet.) I found a very humorous profile of their artistic career which you can read here. It includes this priceless passage: According to Baird, "The most gratifying and shameful moment of that whole experience [of stardom] was at the Indiana State Fair. Some woman came up to me and said, 'I love that "huggie-kissie" song you do. My two-year-old dances every time we see it on CMT.' I knew then that I had reached the lowest common denominator."... posted by Friedrich at November 4, 2003 | perma-link | (29) comments

Friday, October 3, 2003

Friedrich -- * My favorite new blog-discovery is George Hunka's Superfluities, here. George manages the too-rare trick of bringing together a lot of in-the-midst-of-it art-and-media sophistication with a free-ranging and personal point of view. Superfluities is already high up on my blog-reading list, even if my eyes do ache from the tiny typeface. Nancy Lebovitz wrote in to point out a couple of very interesting pieces. * Here's software-usability guru Joel Spolsky on what it was like to move his business into a new office. People intrigued by the interactions of software, architecture, art, usability, beauty and business will probably find the piece fascinating. BTW, one of Spolsky's products -- a roll-your-own website application -- looks very alluring (here). Although, dangnabit, it isn't available for the Mac. And, hey, am I the only person who hates the word "application"? What's wrong with "program"? * Heres an engrossing interview with the painter Michael Newberry. Objectivist art -- who knew? Certainly not me. Newberry's paintings look like a cross between New Classicism and sci-fi book-jacket art. Which about sums up Objectivism, at least so far as my understanding of it goes. * Nancy's own site, here, is something Ive wanted to link to for a while. Have you ever helped yourself to a browse? It's a delight. Nancy sells buttons and bumperstickers, and you've never seen such a large collection of good one-liners. Oscar Wilde would admire many of them. * Alan Sullivan makes more sense (IMHO, of course) on the topic of gay marriage than anyone else Ive read, here. * Mike Snider makes the case for using rather than defying form and tradition here. Be sure to follow the links in his posting too. * Lordy, identity politics, huh? Yucko: encouraging people to identify as this or that, to make a big deal out of it, and to join clubs and dorms based on it ... I'm probably not the only person who's wondered how long it would be before someone straight and white would say, "Well, since the game seems to be identity politics, why shouldn't I have a little identity-politics fun too? I mean, fair's fair, right?" Dennis Prager says its happening now, here. * Thomas Sowell responds to some dumb if all-too-typical remarks about civil rights here. * Kevin Michael Grace wonders whether classical music is alive or dead, here and here. * Does intelligence have survival-and-success value? OK, sure, but always? Ive certainly seen a fair number of brilliant people make hashes of their lives. Hey, The New Scientist reports that experiments with fruit flies suggest that cleverness does indeed come with costs as well as benefits, here. * Alice Bachini makes an eloquent defence of sleeping late in the morning here. * A terrific blogging innovation from Yahmdallah, here, who MP3s and links to some of his favorite rock-guitar solos. Seems well within the bounds of fair use, as well as a first-class way to compare musical tastes. Yahmdallah likes the really far-out rock-guitar stuff,... posted by Michael at October 3, 2003 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Evo-Bio of Music
Michael: Youre a lot more musical than I, so maybe you remember this differently, but when I was first introduced to atonal music I was lectured on how it sounded bad only because people were so accustomed to the tonal competition. In other words, like everything else about human beings (at least in the 1970s), musical preferences for tonality were entirely socially constructed. Well, a story in the NY Times, We Got Rythmn: The Mystery of Music and Evolution suggests that this notionlike most strict social construction theoriesappears to be wrong. Apparently there is a fair amount of evidence that the human preference for tonal music is innatei.e., present at birthand that it reflects the tuning of the human auditory system to the frequencies and harmonies of the human voice. As the article by Nicholas Wade (which you can read here) points out: All societies have music, all sing lullaby-like songs to their infants, and most produce tonal music, or music composed in subsets of the 12-tone chromatic scale, such as the diatonic or pentatonic scales. Some of the earliest known musical instruments, crane bone flutes from the Jiahu site in China, occupied from 7000 to 5700 B.C., produce a tonal scale. A Dr. Sandra Trehub at the University of Toronto has tested the musical preferences of infants as young as 2 months; they like consonance over dissonance and really like perfect fifths and fourths. Three Duke University neuroscientists (Dr. David A. Schwartz, Dr. Catherine Q. Howe and Dr. Dale Purves) think that the preference for tonality reflects the basic mechanics of human vocalization: Though every human voice, and maybe each utterance, is different, a certain commonality emerges when many different voices are analyzed. The human vocal tract shapes the vibrations of the vocal cords into a set of harmonics that are more intense at some frequencies than others relative to the fundamental note. The principal peaks of intensity occur at the fifth and the octave, with lesser peaks at other intervals that correspond to most of the 12 tones of the chromatic scale, the Duke researchers say in an article published last month in the Journal of Neuroscience. Almost identical spectra were produced by speakers of English, Mandarin, Persian and Tamil. A related article, apparently not available online, Perfect Pitch: A Gift of Note for Just a Few, seems to suggest that the ability to distinguish sounds based on absolute pitch is a savant skill like those discussed in another posting here. In my previous posting the theory was advanced that savants are able to tap lower-level processing skills directly that in most people are suppressed by other brain functions. This notion seems supported by the fact that the human brains auditory cortex is set up with sets of neurons that respond to particular frequencies. As Josh McDermott of M.I.T. points out, everyone is hard wired to have perfect pitch: It should be relatively trivial [for the brain] to read out the absolute pitch of a stimulus. So its... posted by Friedrich at September 18, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, September 4, 2003

CD Prices
Friedrich -- I was thrilled to read this morning that Universal is cutting music-CD prices by 30%. The dam may finally be breaking, and huzzah to that. But I can't be the only person reacting to the announcement by thinking, Sheesh, what took so long? I'd love to know the answer and haven't run across it in any of the coverage. Haven't people hated absurd CD prices for ages and ages? And I know that Naxos has developed itself a nice little business by selling classical-music CDs for attractive prices. So why has it taken the majors so long to make a move on prices? A matter of pure greed? Of inertia? But aren't markets supposed to respond more quickly than that? So do we blame it on Evil Monopoly Control? Or has it just been a matter of a bunch of Goliaths staring at each anxiously, their hands on their holstered guns, saying, "You first, pardner"? Do you know the answer? Do any of our visitors? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Free Reads -- Felicity on Music
Friedrich -- One of the best blog postings I've read in a long time: an amazing piece by Felicity McCarthy of Goliard Dreams about music, here. What does it mean to us personally? How does this happen? How do we experience it, both as audience and performers? Felicity brings multiple, unfolding perspectives to bear in a spatial-yet-developing way that can only be described as musical itself. Sample passage: I am transported to a different state, to an alternate time-frame when I participate in music. How I feel and where I am transported depends a great deal on whether I am playing or listening, what time of day, where I am, and (no surprise here) what I am listening to. The rhythm and tempo of the music takes precedence over whatever clock I was previously measuring my existence to. When I listen to music, I am automatically counting my life in measures and beats instead of minutes and seconds. Whew -- great stuff: reflective, informative, helpful. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 30, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The Music Business and Its Gatekeepers
Michael: I read an interesting article on the music industry in The New Yorker of July 7 . Titled The Money Note by John Seabrook, it takes a meandering look at how Jason Flom, a 42-year-old multimillionaire executive at the Warner Music Group, is trying to make a world star out of an unknown 19-year-old French girl singer. The article's subtitle, "Can the record business survive?" refers to the decaying economics of the industry, where the volume of CDs sold keeps shrinking, quarter over quarter. To say that the story is a bit schizoid and unfocused is an understatement, but it does contain some rather suggestive pieces of information. The article pretty much takes the music business' view of itself at face value; to wit, that a small number of record men (such as Mr. Flom) are essential to the process of picking out tomorrows stars and packaging them for mega-success, an activity which is becoming no less expensive but far less lucrative as a result of the Napsterization of digital music: Successful record men are commonly said to have ears but prospecting for monsters requires eyes for star quality as well as a nose for the next trend. You have to be able to go to thousands of sweaty night clubs, and sit through a dozen office auditions each week, and somehow not become so jaded that you fail to recognize a superstar when you encounter oneWhy should the latent capacity for superstardom in pop, which is perhaps the most egalitarian of art forms, be obvious to only a gifted few like Jason Flomthose great A&R (artist-and-repertoire) men whom the record industry celebrates as its heroes? (And they are invariably male.) After all, even the great record men are wrong much more often than they are right about the acts they sign (nine misses for each hit is said to be the industry standard). One wonders how much of the art of hit-making is just dumb luck. Regretfully, the author doesnt follow up on his dumb-luck scenario. He swerves back around to the notion that record men have unique noses for talent (no matter how many times they are wrong): Arguably, the most important function that record-industry professionals performis filtering through the millions of aspiring artists who think they can sing or play and finding the one or two who really can. Presumably, this statement (idiotic on its face) is meant to imply that the search is for the one or two who really can move large quantities of CDs. But Mr. Seabrook gives us some interesting statistics that cast doubt on the essential role of the record men: Hit-making is an imprecise method of doing business. Of thirty thousand CDs that the industry released last year in the United States, only four hundred and four sold more than a hundred thousand copies, while twenty-five thousand releases sold less than a thousand copies apiece. When I read that, a little bell went off in my head, and I remembered... posted by Friedrich at July 15, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, June 13, 2003

Free Reads -- William Berlind on Itunes
Friedrich -- We aren't the only people gnawing over the question of how the digitizing of almost everything may be affecting the arts, and our experience of the arts. William Berlind noticed that his daughter and her friends are listening to pop music via Apple's new Itunes service -- but they aren't downloading the songs. They're just listening to the free 30-second promotional snippets. He takes off from there to make many terrific observations. Sample passage: Technological advancement has changed the priorities of composition. The emphasis, which was once on development and theme, on modulations that took place over the course of a song or a musical piece, has shifted to sound design and texturevariables that can be piled up and reduced in a manner of seconds. Its the difference between developing a musical idea (recasting it, changing keys and repeating it) and putting a sound through different filters, or playing a beat four bars with a bassline, four bars without. If our musical attention span could be diagnosed, we would all get treated for musical Attention Deficit Disorder. Berlind's piece can be read in the New York Observer, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 13, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Bipolar Elvis
Michael: As you know, Im both a big Elvis fan and a depressive personality. I always thought these were unrelated phenomena, but Im beginning to wonder. This line of speculation derives from driving around in my car, listening to a CD of Elvis number one hits that I received at my companys Christmas party (my musical tastes are no secret, obviously). As a result of repeat listening, Ive begun to appreciate the Elvis song released at the same time as his death, Way on Down. Its impossiblefor me anywayto avoid thinking about Elvis death when listening to the song. The title, with its double (triple?) entendre reference to dying, is only the start. The song also includes lyrics about lying on the floor and something about what the doctor could prescribe. One could go on in this vein. Is the final result morbid? Oddly enough, no. Apparently Elvis had stared into the abyss long enough that he could derive a certain entertainment value out of it. I recall seeing some extreme close up shots of fat Elvis performing in a film documentary, and being struck by (1) the cosmic extent of Elvis alienation and (2) the way he seemed to find his own alienation amusing. All his life, Elvis seemed to be enjoying a private joke, which he was willing to let the world about halfway in on. Apparently his impending death struck him the same way his ridiculous stardom had struck him two decades beforeas a goofy joke. If it turned out to be a joke on him, well, that was okay too. The King's Sense of Humor in Action However, listening to the song, it did suddenly dawn on me that the way Elvis periods of extremely high energycreatively, career-wise, in his personal lifealternated with periods of extreme passivity, secrecy and ah, screw it-ism suggested attacks of depression or, possibly, manic depression. So I did a google search to see if anyone else had voiced thoughts along these lines. As it turns out, within a minute or two I found a conversation between Time Magazine and Vernon Chadwick, the chairman of the fourth annual Conference on Elvis Presley which occurred in 1998. It included the following quote: This morning one of our speakers, a therapist from Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey, advanced the thesis that Elvis suffered bipolar disorder, which is a more technical name for manic depression. And that Elvis' substance abuse, eating disorders, and chronic depression should be placed in the larger context of a personality disorder. I guess all this should get filed in preparation for my ultimate tract, Mental Health and Creativity: Is It Possible to Have Both? A hunk a hunk of burning cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at March 13, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, January 31, 2003

Free Reads -- The Economist on Classical Music
Friedrich -- An unnamed writer in The Economist delivers a helpful review of Julian Johnson's new book, "Who Needs Classical Music?" Sample passage: For Mr Johnson, mainstream culture has become saturated with the youth values of immediacy and novelty. Geared to commodities and advertising, it dismisses the more deliberate and complex responses which classical music requires as outmoded, unsellable and elitist. The piece is readable here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 31, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- The Economist on Classical Music
Friedrich -- An unnamed writer in The Economist delivers a helpful review of Julian Johnson's new book, "Who Needs Classical Music?" Sample passage: For Mr Johnson, mainstream culture has become saturated with the youth values of immediacy and novelty. Geared to commodities and advertising, it dismisses the more deliberate and complex responses which classical music requires as outmoded, unsellable and elitist. The piece is readable here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 31, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Free Reads -- Tunes and the brain
Friedrich -- Researchers at Dartmouth using MRI studies have begun mapping out which parts of the brain are involved in recognizing musical tunes. What intrigues me more than the brain imaging news is the piece of music used in the study. Composed by a recent Dartmouth grad, Jeffrey Birk, it's 8 minutes long and moves through all 24 major and minor keys: The music was specifically crafted to shift in particular ways between and around the different keys.These relationships between the keys, representative of Western music, create a geometric pattern that is donut shaped, which is called a torus. The piece of music moves around on the surface of the torus. It moves around on the surface of a torus? Huh? What a virtuosic stunt of musical construction that must be! But what does it sound like? The press release can be read here. Found via the Human Nature Daily Review, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 8, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Funky Chickens
Friedrich -- Music has been found have a fast and dramatic impact on the moods of very young chickens, reports Larry O'Hanlon for Discovery News online (readable here). Sample passage: In the study, briefly isolated chicks who quickly cry out in distress were exposed to music. Their distress calls dropped and they showed other physical signs that the music had quelled their anxiety, apparently making them feel better. They seemed most soothed by a range of pop music, and calmed less by Mozart's Kronungconzert, said Panksepp. But there's no saying for certain, because chicks can't explain how they feel, he cautioned. Gotta admire that scientific caution. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, November 8, 2002

Dvorak in Love
Friedrich -- You've got me thinking about 19th century American art, and as I was doing so during this morning's walk to work I remembered one of the best books I've ever read on the topic -- Josef Skvorecky's novel Dvorak in Love. Have you checked it out? A terrific treat, enthralling both as fiction and as history. It's about a visit the composer Antonin Dvorak made to America, brought over by a lady patron of the arts to help us develop our own musical tradition. His conclusion? That we already had a great musical tradition -- in African-American music and in Native American music. Why he wasn't crazy about white people's folk music I don't know. But he went on, in any case, to write the New World Symphony based on his visit here. As a novel, it's beyond fab: A big, burstingly soulful, poetic, lyrical thing, full of characters with rich inner lives, and organized like a jazz symphony (although I like it better than I like most jazz symphonies). It was one of the books I was most thrilled by during the years when I was following new fiction. I seemed to be almost alone in my enthusiasm, but I thought it was as good as anything by Garcia Marquez or Kundera. Why it didn't get more notice I don't know. But it's just as good as a reference work for 19th-century American art buffs. I was so taken by the book that I did some research about the stories it tells, and as far as I could determine, everything in it besides the obvious (inner monologues, etc) is true to the facts. There's tons of information in there about early black music, early attempts to create conservatories, and 19th century performance traditions -- and Skvorecky is as touching about the genteel yearning for high art as he is about the beauty and vitality of the folk arts. It's buyable here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2002 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

The Church of PBS
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Stephen Foster: Death by documentary "Major funding for this program was provided by Sominex...." Well, not really, but just as well. You have to take your hat off to PBS. Has there ever been an organization more expert at taking juicy subjects and turning them into the purest tedium? I mean, aside from textbook-publishing corporations. (Two exceptions noted: the Michael Pack/Richard Brookhiser documentary about George Washington, website here; and "The Commanding Heights," from the Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw account of the battle between market forces and faith in government, watchable online -- bless the web -- here.) I should be a perfect PBS audience member. I'm in a facts-not-fiction phase; I'm devouring history books, reading them at night and listening to them on audiobook during commutes. I'm amazed by how passionate and immediate history can be in the hands of the right writers and thinkers. Why wasn't I able to pay attention back in high school and college? Have I changed? Have I simply discovered the writers who suit my tastes and interests? So, full of hope, I record PBS documentary after PBS documentary. What could be more alluring than a video presentation of real lives and true stories? You can watch in the company of your sweetie! You can talk about what you're learning as you watch! In fact, it's always a challenge to get The Wife, as addicted as ever to fantasy and make-believe, to settle down in front of a documentary. But sometimes I do succeed... And we almost never make it through. I've tried the Ken Burns shows; they were gruesomely difficult to endure. I'm pleased that many people watched and enjoyed his series on jazz, for instance, but only because I root for jazz. There were wonderful facts and footage there to be discovered. But why did the series have to be so long, so solemn, and so slow? This evening the Wife and I sat down to watch the PBS "American Experience" hour on Stephen Foster (link here). Within 15 minutes we were both fighting sleep. How do they do it? It's as though the people behind these shows are determined to kill all interest in history, or at least my interest in history. I watch the shows wondering who the producers are: grown-up versions of those kids who loved 8th-grade social studies class? And who then went on to major in that vapid field, American Studies? What a dull exercise in earnest civic uplift the Stephen Foster show was. It might have been put together by a committee of progressive junior-high teachers who like to encourage debate on such topics as "What is America?", and who, no matter what the question, always come up with the same answer: black/white race relations. Stephen Foster was an important and interesting figure, and I'm sure there are viewers who got something out of the show. But the people who make these documentaries seem terrified of immediacy, and are so... posted by Michael at November 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

American High Culture
Michael After reading a history of the NEA last week, I got to pondering the whole question of high" culture in America. As you might imagine, the term gets tossed around quite a bit in any such book. But once I started thinking about it, I got a bit confused: I mean, can anybody tell me exactly what is "high" culture? From sociological observations over the years, I would say it would include painting (but not Norman Rockwell), classical music (but not R&B), opera (but not Broadway musicals), ballet (but not square dancing), poetry (but not the kind that rhymes if written between 1910 and 1990), literature (but not best sellers), etc., etc. It seems to help a works high-culture quotient a lot if it embodies a well-defined artistic tradition that was nurtured someplace other than America (if possible, Europe) and if that art, previous to the French Revolution, was created for kings, aristocrats, and/or the prelates of the Catholic Church. I guess a working definition of "high" culture in todays world is anything that (1) wasnt dreamed up by Americans, or, at the very least, will never be understood by the average American (2) conveys social cachet and (3) cant charge its consumers enough to keep it afloat. Now, it may seem harsh to condemn all cultural activities originating in America as low. But I think the following quote from historian Clinton Rossiter accurately summed up many generations of American and European intellectual thought on that subject: no great nation can be said to be worth respecting or imitating if it has not achieved a high level of culture, and it is at least an arguable question whether this nation will ever achieve it. Obviously, in the 20th century America has plenty of institutions that have guarded the gate against the barbarians of the low and nurtured the flame of the "high"universities, museums, symphony orchestras, etc. But it got me thinking where these institutions come from, because when I look at America in the 19th century, I can't see any such thing as "high" culture, in the sense of artistic activities fulfilling all three conditions I outline above. For the skeptics in the audience, Im prepared to lay out some illustrations, limiting myself to music in order to keep this posting at a manageable length. Music began its history in America in church, where, by the beginning of the 18th century, it was conceded by even the Puritans to be necessary in order to keep everyone together when reciting the Psalms aloud. Let's face it, though: there has never been any social cachet attached to the Puritans. The Revolutionary War saw a flowering of musical creativity, but it was aggressively anti-European in nature, with American musicians deliberately changing the words of British songs, such as "Yankee Doodle," to taunt their adversaries. William Billings, a Boston tanner, composed an anthem called "Chester" that expressed his confidence in the ability of the new nation to shake off the "iron rods" and... posted by Friedrich at November 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Saturday, November 2, 2002

Free Views -- Cristina Aguilera
Friedrich -- When you check into pop culture as seldom as I do, you lose track of where current pop things come from, as well as what any of it means to anyone. It's all a big, sparkly blur, like an evening of clubgoing spent on drugs and in the company of strangers. You wonder afterwards: What was that all about? Cristina 1: Not yet Dirrty enough As for teeny-porn pop ... Well, I wholeheartedly approve, just as I wholeheartedly cheer the parents and teachers who worry about its impact. What's pop culture without these ritual stresses? But what do I really know about teeny-porn pop? And what do I know about how to judge it? Today, for instance, I stumbled across a new Cristina Aguilera video called "Dirrty," which can be viewed here. Holy moly! "Dirrty" is a pop blur, all right -- of sexy kids strutting and striking poses, of flashing lights, of taunting self-caresses, and of more provocative, athletic hip-twitching than I've ever seen in my whole long life. (I worry about the future health of Cristina's lumbar region.) For most of it, Cristina is dressed in leather chaps and red panties, whose crotch she aims at you whenever possible. Music-wise, there was a lot of whompa-whompa, of course, and a lot of whooping, hollering and growling too. You could tell when it was a blonde girl's voice because it soared out of control; you could tell when it was a black guy's voice because it growled menacingly. As for the lyrics, I could pick out only a few words: "get me off," and "sweatin' till my clothes come off" (I think a rhyme was intended). The video is like an encyclopedia of everything anyone ever thought was sexy, set to strobe lights and jackhammers. My first thought was, Lordy! As though it wasn't difficult enough learning sexual self-control 35 years ago! Surrounded by this kind of thing, how do modern boys ever stop masturbating? My second thought was, When did singing become a matter of vocal gymnastics instead of carrying a tune? I may be wrong, but I'm guessing it was about the same time pop music stopped being about songs and started being about sonic-effects-set-to-beats. My third thought was: there comes a moment in a young female performer's life when she decides to declare herself no longer a child, and I guess that moment has arrived for Cristina. A young movie actress usually marks the passage to womanhood by doing her first nude scene; Cristina seems to have decided it was time to break out the chaps and panties. All of which means that she has decided that, in her previous incarnation, she wasn't being sexual enough. Cristina 2: A woman now But here's the question I have no way of answering, having lost whatever feel for pop I once had: Has Cristina gone too far? Will her fans follow her? I do wonder. Physically, she's lost a little of her adorable scrawniness, and seems... posted by Michael at November 2, 2002 | perma-link | (12) comments

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Free Reads -- Trowbridge on dogs and music
Friedrich -- Dave Trowbridge at Redwood Dragon has been thinking about animals, in-born natures, and music, here. Not to be missed. Sample passage: While it may not make sense to characterize one kind of music as "better" than another, there does seem to be a sense in which some kinds of music are more "natural." That is, they seem to fit some basic sense of acoustic fitness that is shared by all human beings, and, it now seems, some higher animals as well. And paramount among these forms of music is the Western "classical" tradition, especially the baroque and classical periods. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 26, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, October 24, 2002

The Economics of Janis Ian
Michael One of our correspondents brought to my attention the following article by Janis Ian on the topic of intellectual property rights in the digital age. I, for one, take the opinion of someone such as Ms. Ian fairly seriously--she's got a tangible, financial stake in this issue. She chose to offer free downloads of her music on her website,, in July. An excerpt detailing her experiences: On the first day I posted downloadable music, my merchandise sales tripled, and they have stayed that way ever since. I'm not about to become a zillionaire as a result, but I am making more money. At a time when radio playlists are tighter and any kind of exposure is hard to come by, 365,000 copies of my work now will be heard. Even if only 3% of those people come to concerts or buy my CDs, I've gained about 10,000 new fans this year. That's how artists become successful: exposure. Without exposure, no one comes to shows, and no one buys CDs. After 37 years as a recording artist, when people write to tell me that they came to my concert because they downloaded a song and got curious, I am thrilled. Her article, "Music Industry Spins Falsehood," appeared in USA today. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, October 18, 2002

The Economics of Elvis reredux
Michael You ask what direction would I like to see copyright law take as we move further into the age of perfect and easy replication? Based on what I learned writing my posting, The Economics of Elvis, Im not so sure copyright law should take much of a direction at all. When a new copyright law is passed, its always justified as an attempt to protect the property rights of innovative people from some current threat (whether mechanical reproduction in 1909 or digital piracy in 2002). Once this hole in intellectual property rights is patched, things will work like everyone knows they should. But intellectual property is subject to the law of unintended consequences big time. What has commonly happened is that once the lawmakers have applied their backward looking "patch," we discover that they've gone and created entirely new property rights, often in industries undreamt-of when the law was passed. For example, was it really a matter of course that songwriters (or, in reality, their corporate successors) should own the radio rights to their songs? How about television rights? Did anyone know how much money would be involved in either the radio or the television rights when the bill that granted these rights was debatedin 1897? Of course not; the congressmen of 1897 felt bad for songwriters because they couldn't charge royalties for performance of their music, a power that dramatists had enjoyed for performances of their plays for 50 years. But this decision had a whole series of unforeseen impacts that extend to this day. Another troubling consequence of the creation of such expanded intellectual property rights is impact this has on the creative "temperature" of an industry. Corporations are money-making entities, not creative entities. They are not in business for the joy of innovation or the joy of making art. A portfolio of intellectual property of demonstrated popularity that can be risklessly exploited offers the illusion of security in a notoriously unpredictable environment. (For one example, think of the profits the current generation of Disney managers has extracted from their control of Walt Disney's portfolio of intellectual property.) This path, however, leads directly away from the risk taking and experimentation of trying to develop products for new, poorly defined markets. Unproven markets will always be inherently dicey for large companies, because it is genuinely unlikely that such markets can generate enough sales to provide a good return on the organizations large amounts of invested capital. The net result is a conservative, play-it-safe tendency to pursue strategies that have yielded mass sales and large profits in the past, and that, if possible, dont make existing inventory obsolete. While apparently rational, such a strategy will also generally fail to flush out the new, urgent wants/needs in society that can serve as the basis for a radically enlarged market. In my piece I used the example of music industrys failure to identify and exploit the demand for race music for twenty years, and for hillbilly music for fifteen yearsbecause the... posted by Friedrich at October 18, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

The Economics of Elvis
Michael Perhaps you noticed the following in the October 12 issue of the Economist: The war over control of the digital copying of music and movies has many fronts, in Congress and the marketplace as well as the courts. It has pitted Hollywood against the technology firms of Silicon Valley and consumer advocates such as Mr. Lessig. The record industry succeeded in killing Napster this year, but file-sharing by consumers is growing; on-line swapping of films and TV shows, as well as music, is catching on. Americas frightened media behemoths are lobbying hard for new laws and new technology to stop copying and to control what customers do with their products. While the fight over the control of digital music rages, a look at history suggests that many of struggles of today echo the battles fought in the music industry over the past century. (My account is largely based on the work of Russell and David Sanjek in "American Popular Music Business in the 20th Century" and Peter Hall's "Cities in Civilization.") In the late 19th century, practitioners of the music content industry clustered in New Yorks Tin Pan Alley. Songwriters primarily made money by selling their product to music publishers, who in turn sold sheet music to consumers who wanted to play the music at home. However, when in 1891 the first major revision of copyright law in one hundred years was passed, the music publishers saw the light. In 1895 the Music Publishers Association (MPA) of the United States was formed, and within two years had successfully lobbied Congress for additional copyright legislation, giving them the power to license (i.e., demand royalties for) public performance of their worka right which they had never previously possessed. The music publishers were fed up with the money (i.e., payola) that vaudeville was sucking out of them. (Musical vaudeville performances were the chief advertising medium for new songs.) Armed with their new intellectual property right, the music publishers decided to turn vaudeville from a cost center into a revenue source. In 1913 they formed ASCAP, the American Society of Composers and Publishers, and announced that ASCAP would prevent the playing of all copyrighted music at any public function unless a royalty was paid. ASCAP chose from the beginning to pool the funds it received (that is, they werent divided according to the exactly calculated earnings of each song). ASCAPs distributions deliberately favored the larger music publishers and the most popular songwriters. ASCAPs bargaining power came from the perception that it controlled the most popular, most mainstream music, and it had to keep the major players on board to maintain its clout. A big source of royalties that started to roll in (an unintended benefit of the 1897 copyright law) came from the recorded music industry. These grew healthily until 1921. However, when this total began shrinking the next year, ASCAP easily identified the culprit: free music from the nations infant radio industry. And ASCAP knew what to do about it. In 1922,... posted by Friedrich at October 18, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, October 14, 2002

Free Reads -- Glenn Gould
Friedrich -- Rick Phillips writes about Glenn Gould for Gramphone magazine, here. Thanks to cultureblogger Kelly Jane Torrance (here) for the link. Sample passage: Recently I met Natalie Webster, a young piano student at Birmingham Conservatory in England... Shortly after discovering Gould a few years ago, she was so moved that she made a pilgrimage to Toronto, fuelled with an eagerness to pay tribute to him somehow. On her first and final days in Toronto, Natalie visited the peaceful Gould gravesite, where she listened to the 1981 Goldberg Variations recording from beginning to end on a Walkman. Hey, the Wife and I made our own pilgrimage to Gould landmarks the last time we were in Toronto. Have you ever caught the Gould bug? When you come down with it, you tend to come down hard, and to never want to get over it. Even I, a classical-music moron, have become a buff. My (rather quirky) tips for tyros who want to give Gould a try: start with the early and late Goldbergs (a fabulous deal at Amazon, here); move on to the Bach English Suites (here) and then to my fave of Gould's recordings, of some pieces by Byrd, Gibbon and Sweelinck (here). And don't neglect to treat yourself to a browse through his writings (here) -- Gould was, as the Wife patiently explained to me, a philosopher of music as well as an entertainingly perverse character. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Glenn Gould
Friedrich -- Rick Phillips writes about Glenn Gould for Gramphone magazine, here. Thanks to cultureblogger Kelly Jane Torrance (here) for the link. Sample passage: Recently I met Natalie Webster, a young piano student at Birmingham Conservatory in England... Shortly after discovering Gould a few years ago, she was so moved that she made a pilgrimage to Toronto, fuelled with an eagerness to pay tribute to him somehow. On her first and final days in Toronto, Natalie visited the peaceful Gould gravesite, where she listened to the 1981 Goldberg Variations recording from beginning to end on a Walkman. Hey, the Wife and I made our own pilgrimage to Gould landmarks the last time we were in Toronto. Have you ever caught the Gould bug? When you come down with it, you tend to come down hard, and to never want to get over it. Even I, a classical-music moron, have become a buff. My (rather quirky) tips for tyros who want to give Gould a try: start with the early and late Goldbergs (a fabulous deal at Amazon, here); move on to the Bach English Suites (here) and then to my fave of Gould's recordings, of some pieces by Byrd, Gibbon and Sweelinck (here). And don't neglect to treat yourself to a browse through his writings (here) -- Gould was, as the Wife patiently explained to me, a philosopher of music as well as an entertainingly perverse character. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Glenn Gould
Friedrich -- Arts & Letters Daily, pointing out that the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould would have turned 70 today, includes a pinata of links to Gould sources and sites, here. Among the offerings, Robert Everett-Green's short appreciation in the Globe and Mail is a standout, here. Have you ever gone through a Gould phase? It's hard not to become a Gould fiend once you catch the bug. He was intellectually brilliant (classical-music performers are usually about as intellectually keen as actors and painters are), was an entertaining and enlightening critic ("The Glenn Gould Reader" shows his brains and writing chops off well), and, according to people who know these things a zillion times better than I do, probably the greatest performer of contrapuntal keyboard music who ever lived. In his performing and his writing he was a real philosopher of music. His two versions of "The Goldberg Variations" are legendary. Of his other recordings (the Wife is a longtime Gould nut and has been my guide here), I especially love his version of Bach's English Suites and his album of pieces by the Renaissance composers Byrd, Gibbons and Sweelinck. The Canadian film "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould," written by Don McKellar, directed by Francois Girard and starring Colm Feore as Gould, is a fab intro to Gould (it stays very close to the facts), and an interesting film in its own right. It attempts to give a multi-perspecitival, nonlinear, musical account of Gould's life -- ie., Gould seen entirely in Gouldian terms. Gould, by the way, died at 50, as complete a physical wreck as Elvis was at the end, and probably as drug-dependent (although Gould apparently used prescription drugs only). Amazon has a good intro-to-Gould page, with many links to books, videos and recordings, here. By coincidence, I happen this week to be leafing around "American Normal," a book about people with Asperger's Syndrome by Lawrence Osborne, which, despite its title, has a chapter devoted to Gould. (On sale here.) Did he or didn't he have Asperger's, which is often described (apparently semi-accurately) as a mild form of autism? Gould was a beyond-quirky character, with more than a little of the idiot-savant about him. He dressed in wool even in summer, abandoned the concert life as soon as he was able to, subsisted largely on arrowroot biscuits, hummed while he played, and preferred to interact with people over the phone -- a behavior package apparently highly suggestive of Asperger's. According to Osborne, the question has become a highly-charged one, with some Gouldians and members of the Asperger's community saying "no question," and many other fans (and even some Asperger types) saying "no way." In one passage, a Gould scholar named Dr. Tim Maloney, who is convinced that Gould indeed had Asperger's, says to Osborne: He was on his own planet. No one else really mattered to him. He was alone. He loved being alone. According to him, and he said it countless times, the artist had to be... posted by Michael at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Michael I was leafing through the book review section of the L.A. Times last Sunday when I stumbled across Thinking Hard, Listening Deeply, a review of Theodor W. Adornos "Essays On Music." (Link here.) Being a musical ignoramus (Im pretty much of the I dont know from music, but I know what I like school), I am a sucker for books that will explain music to me, so I settled down to read the review. I was pretty quickly put in my place by the very first paragraph: Given that whole careers are devoted to elucidating the thought of Theodor W. Adorno, an interested neophyte reader might well approach his work with trepidation. The ideal reader of his essays on music would have a thorough knowledge of the classical repertoire since Bach and philosophy since Kant as well as Adorno's other work, which runs to 20 volumes in the German collected edition. This clued me inI am, after all, an Ivy League graduate, and, I like to think, pretty quick on the uptakethat Id better accept as Gospel everything that follows, because evidently no one other than (possibly) Adorno himself could be sufficiently intellectually prepared to criticize Adorno. Feeling out of my depth, I was just about to bail when the reviewer, Adam Kirsch (identified somewhat obscurely as the author of the book of poems "The Thousand Wells") threw me a lifeline: For even at his most abstract and theoretical, Adorno's writing is always oriented toward real life. Like Marx, he seeks to understand the world in order to change it. I was intrigued that someone in 2002 was still complimenting a writer by comparing him to Marx, given the last centurys experience with Practical Marxism. Perhaps foolishly, I decided to stick it out. I learned that Adorno, born in 1903, was from one of those Jewish households that revered German culture (are there any other kinds of Jewish families in the serious books the L.A. Times reviews?) He went on to study musical composition in Vienna, was a huge fan of the music of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg. However, after eventually deciding to focus on philosophy, he joined up with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, a group that undertook the sophisticated application of Marxist thought to cultural and social practices. (I hope you picked up on that sophisticated and didnt think they were just sitting around making Workers of the World Unite posters with magic markers.) Unfortunately, timing is everything in life, and Adorno had the poor judgment to do all this right around the time Hitler came to power. Adorno and the Institute quickly skedaddled from Germany, Adorno heading for London and the Institute for Columbia University in New York. Adorno eventually also went to New York in 1938, and moved on to Los Angeles in 1941. Adornos arrival in Los Angeles, while probably not making the front page of the L.A. Times in those benighted days before it became a world class newspaper, certainly... posted by Friedrich at August 28, 2002 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Elvis meets Rubens
Michael I've been listening to a good deal of Elvis recently, and have become obsessed with a strange issue that derives from it. Sam Phillips, the Sun Records man, described "Don't Be Cruel" as a "sad song with a happy beat." I've been listening a lot to another Elvis song, "Mess of Blues" which is also, ostensibly, a sad song: I got your letter, baby Too bad you can't come home I swear I'm going crazy Sitting here by the phone Since you've gone I've got a mess of blues I got your letter Sunday Didn't eat a thing all day The days are all Blue Mondays Since you went away Since you've gone I've got a mess of blues (etc.) Elvis is doing his operatic, booming, echo-chamber version of human suffering. However, the music is very swinging, strongly rythmic (if mid-tempo), with the beat emphasized by hand claps and background singers going "wooo-woo." In short, another "sad song with a happy beat." The closest artistic analogy that comes to my untidy mind is Rubens' "Raising of the Cross" in which a suffering (but very athletic) Christ looks plaintively to Heaven as he is being hoisted by the combined efforts of huge, ultra-muscular ( and rather evil looking) manual laborers, with a few vigorous Roman soldiers and a beautiful leaping spaniel (one of the great dogs in painting) tossed in. Again, we have a "sad story" told with, well, a "happy beat." In both the song and the painting, the protagonist's suffering is obvious, but the whole treatment (strongly rythmic in both cases combined with an extravagant, virtuosic execution) suggests an underlying energy or power that will, we know, shortly "resurrect" the protagonist from the dead. This suggests that the attraction of Elvis is that he is a modern version of Osiris, suffering the dismembering wounds of adolescence, but with the superhuman vitality that makes his sufferings ultimately life affirming. (I don't think it was an accident that in the Osiris myth he is resurrected with an 'improved' penis in place of his sacrificed natural one.) When I say that art is at root religious, I may be saying that human nature seems to demand certain stories/rituals/ideas from both art and religion. Osiris Rocks I've been trying to think of a movie-analog to all this, and so far flopping. What is the cinematic analogy to the swinging rythmn of both the song and the painting, anyway? I actually first noticed the tension between style and substance in 50's rock--where I think it is quite widespread--in "The Great Pretender." There the tension is between the operatic "doo-wop" form and the earnestness of the singer--he may be singing opera, but by God he's sincere. Does all of this derive from the fact that 50's rock was extremely self-conscious about being the art form of "teenagers"--who of course couldn't be taken seriously? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments