i'm thinking that might be the best singer in the history of popular music.
my fred eaglesmith playlist at this point consists of 202 songs, albums stretching from 1983 to 2013. I'm shocked i wasn't aware, actually, before i was martyred to miranda lambert's version of his 'time to get a gun.' it might be the greatest body of songwriting in a country vein in that period, and one of the greatest of recording artistry. over and over and etc he is just an astonishing lyricist: these songs are so beautifully and poetically crafted, and yet so connected to country and blues traditions, with a rare combination of skill and simplicity.
though the songs have some things in common across the whole body - especially a melancholy-to-devastated mood - the work is remarkably varied. it's hard to believe listening to his recent stuff, but in the '80s he could do a classic bluegrass tenor, with excellence and also rough authenticity, and plus he could write bluegrass/acoustic country songs that sound like classics from the late 1940s and '50s, that could have been recorded by the stanleys, for example.
the combination of simplicity and subtlety makes him sound classic to me. stuff like this is framed in a more electric country vein:
what a beautiful piece of writing. fucking perfect.
several of the albums, such as 'cha cha cha' have really very distinctive sonic approaches, and whatever he gets into, eaglesmith handles beautifully; the instrumental and production frame comes out intrinsic to the lyrics and singing.
for example, i'm always a sucker for that farfisa/texmex thing, which he pulls out on tambourine.
the oeuvre is too vast to really do justice to without really going long, but i'd urge you to explore. rarely has someone so great been so underappreciated.
that's audrey auld on the duet, i believe. he does often return to guns, one way or another. of course, that's very traditional in country music (as hip hop, for example), and i would urge the police and academic administrators even in oklahoma not to construe the songs as death threats.
i'll say again that this one is just an astonishing composition:
sometimes he sounds like ralph stanley, sometimes like prine or dylan, sometimes like steve earle or vice versa, often only like himself.
geez, what happened? i must say, i think prince compares extremely favorably to michael jackson, for example. also david bowie. i reviewed his albums early and through the eighties, including at his apex moment, with 'when doves cry' and 'purple rain.' i finally saw him around 2000 at the meadowlands; we were up in the rafters. it was one of the best shows i ever saw: so clean, so propulsive: he was really throwing down the funk with maceo parker and stuff on that tour. he had many great songs; maybe i don't need to do the playlist, even. every few months 'raspberry beret' starts playing on repeat in my mind, e.g. i particularly liked the whole aesthetic of 'kiss': so stripped down to the essence; one of the great pop singles of its era.
now, there were problems too, very often. you don't really want to watch the movie purple rain now, except for kitsch-value and to watch morris day and the time get down. the movie after that (i've repressed the title) was far worse. he wrote some great riffs, but many songs were built on boring, repetitive or unattractive little figures; i think he had a bit too much faith that everything was genius. even listen to '1999': now whistle or hum the riff; it's just boring. and as he went on, his music got less interesting i feel, though i stopped listening at a certain point. but i don't think i would recommend a marathon of all his albums; there's a lot of non-good or just puzzling stuff.
still, as his appearance in baltimore last year and many other things showed, he stayed so much sharper, saner, and more relevant than michael or a lot of other people who reach that level. i don't actually think it's good for anyone to get that level of adulation, and no one quite deserves it anyway. but lord that boy could get it.
michael and prince (and madonna and me) were all born in 1958; the attrition rate is rather disconcerting.
After reading an article in the New Yorker that seemed to confuse Merle Haggard with Jean Paul Belmondo and maybe Johnny Holiday, I gave up. Lucinda Williams recommended a piece and that made me think it might be really possible to still communicate authentically in English. So, while this is kind of a review of the writer's piece, it's really my tribute. Haggard was a lot of things but one thing no one ever accused him of to his face, anyway, was being some kind of auteur. So, in a probably misguided attempt at authenticity...Melancholy Honkytonk.
Being authentic and honest has it's dangers and downsides -- ask Crispin -- but if you work at it, you might be surprised a bit. Maybe even in a good way. --Mike
i hope people take this chance to listen beyond the first couple of cuts to merle haggard, especially the early stuff. packages i'd recommend: i'm a lonesome fugitive and swinging doors and the bottle let me down.
also, i think 'the strangers' is the best name for a country band.
speaking of chinese philosophy, william michael morgan is the best new male country singer i've heard in awhile. plus i believe his name is straight from general hospital. anyway, he's working in that mode i love: george strait/alan jackson/randy travis early-90s neo-trad (now that's a good name for a genre). he's both letter-perfect and heartfelt along those lines, i believe.
yeah, bro. been there.
i'm going with the hashtag #freemiranda. join me!
blake shelton is in trouble, i feel, when that new album comes out. perhaps he can call the campus police at the university of oklahoma and beg for protection.
it is a proud tradition of feisty backyard feminism and amazing american art: kitty wells, patsy cline, tammy wynette, loretta lynn, emmylous harris, reba mcentire, patty loveless. miranda lambert is a worthy daughter of this regal line. here i'll prove it to you:
that's a perfect performance of a perfect country song. that whole album is great. buy it. oh, miranda, i ended up giving everything for you and not, as i had planned, for lucinda williams.
it's not the crime but the cover-up that ends you in disgrace. that thing where oklahoma police agencies allowed themselves to be wielded in order to conceal a professor's plagiarism was raw. the state authorities are going to be spooling that one out for a long time; damn, i'd love to see the email strings. even kerry washington could have told them that.
one problem they have is that ok is the reddest of red states, and the attempted abrogation of free speech turned on country music and advocacy of gun rights. that can't be good for political careers. too bad miranda's from texas. that red river thing can be tough. where's reba mcentire and vince gill?
one thing that is really in play: the total unquestioning unanimity of the academy on a noodly socialism, gun control, etc. on principle they never listen to what people are saying on the other side; they're not even aware of the discourse. they're putting on springsteen over and over and groaning at the profundity, but country music is trash music for white trash people: laughable people. meanwhile dickinson itself is a little blue island in a wine-red sea.
i live 15 miles from carlisle. my neighbors all hunt; i was hearing gunfire yesterday as per usual and trying to figure out whether you could get that fire rate from a semi-auto, etc. people at dickinson actually live in total ignorance and fear of the world and people all around them, are huddled together talking to one another, slapping themselves on the back, cuddled in a bubble of cultural ignorance and bigotry. that's one reason they cannot even understand what is going to happen when the reds get hold of this. also they don't understand that miranda's sort of song is typical in country, and the attitudes typical in the county in which they themselves live. so when it suddenly intrudes, it feels like a bizarre threat from aliens or something.
when i was writing my country music column, i used to get dozens or a hundred cd's every week or two. so you really have to comb quickly, plus it was the very height of 'alt.country', which came to be called 'americana'. you'd get thirty cd's that were competent renderings of similar styles. it got hard to hear. anyway, i think i did get fred eaglesmith enthusiastically once. but going back to the albums '6 volts' and 'lipstick, lies and gasoline': he is just one of the greatest country writers and singers who has worked in this era. an obvious comparison would be steve earle; they do sound similar vocally and so on. and i love steve earle. but the weakest songs on those albums are comparable to earle at his best, and the best are just trascendently excellent compositions, the kind of thing that only a handful of people in a generation can possibly do. so, i want you to concentrate on this song and really hear the lyric. it is deep; it is amazing; it is profoundly moving (to me, anyway!) i do love the melodies - simple and beautiful country constructions - and the performance/recording style too.
i reviewed a couple of fred eaglesmith's albums when i was doing a country music column for the nypress, early 2000s. like a doink, i sort of forgot him after that. i assumed without checking and maybe even said, that miranda lambert wrote it. man she owned it like she wrote it, and she is a fine songwriter. someone reminded me about eaglesmith somewhere; man i appreciate that, on many grounds, because the man is frigging beautiful.
shit! i also forgot that i already have a couple of hand-held missile launchers in my basement. calling all janes! load up the trunk with the mawfuckin arsenal, sweeties! (i hurt my back.) we goin skank hunting!
i have a terrifying admission to make: my work is plagiarized from ludwid wittgenstein. that's why my work sucks so bad that it tastes like sperm. (wait does that work? what is sucking, what ejaculating etc in this metaphor? fuck it i just don't care anymore. anyway i plagiarized that from ludwig too, of course.) worse than that, my actual favorite song by the rolling stones, whom - as you know - i have proven mathematically to be the greatest band in history, is this one. i feel that proof of the transcendent greatness of this song - which is transcendently greater than any other song in the very history of songs - is unlikely to emerge through the mathematical disciplines as currently configured, though each of these, of course and incomprehensibly, is a non-denumerably infinite realm. this will certainly require the profound yet logically impossible development of trans-non-adenumerable infinite infinities, or whatever. fortunately i have some free time, and i'm devoting my next 57 years to scratching futilely, like a cute little kitten, at this impermeable surface. when i get it, as i inevitably shall, i shall dedicate the non-denumerable or entirely nonexistent nobel to jane irish and jane sartwell.
christ i had forgotten how hilarious and great this whole album is. you'd think that would be hard when you listen to it twice every day for five years. right now i'm hearing it as their best album, which is ridiculous since i'd also rank sticky fingers as the greatest album in rock history, this one outside the top 50. i have overcome rationality itself and finally realized the teachings of my dear teacher soren kierkegaard. when i was attacking him during his office hours once at the university of beaumont (texas)... man, he was hard to deal with; he'd just sit there laconically, his face invisible underneath that stetson, loading and unloading that fucking colt; like my dearish rorty, he'd just revel in his irrationality, glorying epiphanically in every reductio ad absurdum with which i battered him. that shit sucked too, like..whatevs. but i'm suddenly finding it very encouraging that i can forget literally anything. i used to be able to forget literally nothing.
plus i am so over these giant reflections on the whole shape of my life, like out and loving the woman artist: a how-to-guide, though these contain my most beautiful and honest writing (eds.? best am essays, etc?) but that shit is sysiphean or however one might spell that. i'm so over that shit. ok, am i certifiably sane now? then why the rubber room?1
1[did i make up this mode of comedy? absolutely not. it is what is known in theories of hilarity as 'high burlesque.' i have fucking perfected it though.]
remember i told you to go out and like listen to and download and pay for immortal tech's revolutionary, vol.2? you didn't, did you? ok. loadin' up the trunk with the mawfuckin arsenal, headin to your place. ok you got it?
i registered republican this year so i could vote for rand in the primary. now i'm stuck with competing fascists in my own fucking party! but...at least i'm not a democrat. if i were i'd dangle myself from my belt in this cell, where the oklahoma state troopers have tossed me after the beat-down.
so, we republicans have all been asking, since it was way too late, how we can stop trump. i am voting for tech, and one vote would be enough. yeah true he and his boys could just jump trump and rodneyking him. but i'd much rather have him in the twitter war or on the debate stage. people keep thinking no one can handle trump verbally; so adept, so funny and fun, so kicking your ass around like jeb bush was his rape victim. just because marco rubio is palpably incapable of besting a turnip in debate doesn't mean a goodly portion of the population couldn't blow up the dump truck.
admittedly, putting anyone on a debate stage with tech, much less a republican, is like vivisecting rabbit eyes. it's like watching mike tyson up against a white boy in those first few fights, or ronda rousey taking on jennifer aniston. still i'd tune in. just like i'm definitely tuning in when terrorists capture the president and torture him on live tv.
slower the better. can you imagine the ratings for that shit? let it run over like an american idol finale.
looking many times at 'time to get a gun' and the necro/vinnie paz/immortal technique video for 'take hip hop back' (the theme songs of this stage of my life), i am struck by many similarities. the first thing to understand is that 'white trash' culture - the hills of west virginia, or parts of miranda's longview texas - is a straight-up sub-altern culture that has many things in common with black ghetto culture. you have extremely high rates of addiction, for example, and welfare dependency. many shattered families, single mothers, children being raised by grandparents. the people who have jobs often have brutal jobs: janitor, garbage man, coal miner.
they both talk about alcohol/substance abuse. they're both engaged in verbal transgressions all day, itself a direct act of resistance. they both deploy an aesthetic of authenticity, of loyalty to their origins and their people; they're both always checking the pop versions of themselves as fake; it's always a return to the emotional urgency and honesty that stand as their origin, itself a resistant or defiant stance with regard to dominant culture.
and both miranda's type of kick-ass country and tech's version of the real hip hop conspicuously feature the culture of the gun, almost a cult. both wield the gun as a symbol of defiance of authority and wield it in resistance to state and other forms of power. it's amazing, but you find very similar consciousness and related identities in miranda's revolution and immortal technique's revolutionary: volume 2. (i demand that you listen to both right now.) it would be an amazing moment of resistance for them to realize that in their totally different - but extremely american - vocabularies, they are saying the same damn thing: 'forget your high society, i'm soaking it in kerosene.'
i want tech to do a verse on miranda's 'time to get a gun' at the ryman, etc. hip hop is all over country nowadays anyway, except it has extreme sucking problems. instead of listening to some country singer try to rap, just bring on the greatest mc in the world. i do think those are the two best artists working in these genres today.
i really am going to get the guns and wings logo tattooed today.
one thing you have to understand. today's academia is a world in which i literally cannot, as an aesthetician (or extremely as the author of [my best book] political aesthetics) do work on or, say, present in a lecture, the art of our era that i genuinely think is the best and most important contemporary art. you might think it's easy not to use racial slurs or whatever. not, for example, if you are doing a class i taught at least twice: 'politics and hip hop.' even ten years ago, the atmosphere was quite different. now every vid would bring a new case of ptsd. so look, an atmosphere where i can't blog about miranda's best songs or teach unexpurgated public enemy or eminem is an atmosphere in which i literally can't do my work, an abridgment of academic freedom so extreme that i could not even write my own books.
and the way i lecture is improv comedy every day, filled with small transgressions; that's also just the way i talk to anyone who is not an asshole. even i found myself over the last couple of years trying to pre-edit each sentence that was coming out of my mouth. to me, the only good thing about a place like dickinson - where i had regularly been tortured by colleagues - melinda schlitt, melinda schlitt, and melinda schlitt - and had never received any kind of support from the administration - was relationships with students. but seriously, week by week my students have been mutating into maoists. unlike actual maoists, however, they spend all day whining about their victimization in the middle of a true enclave of privilege. there was nothing left for me there whatsoever.
it must be excruciating at dickinson to be any sort of unconventional person, hippie, punk, libertarian, and so on. or even a black kid from compton. (we're always struggling to jack up our minority percentages; maybe some kind of grants depend on that. but lord, if you were a black kid from la or philly and you ended up in carlisle, pa with a thousand empty frat boys from new jersey dedicating their lives to beer, it would be an impossible adjustment. very often, it is. i tried to help, and there were always a lot of kids like that in my race-oriented courses especially.) always my actual function had been as a tiny shelter for dickinson's non-conformists; they gravitated to me all the time over the years, but fewer and fewer as time went on. still i was performing that function, and what i regret as much as anything is that i was giving all of wednesday to three independent studies with four kids. what great, creative people, and already doing graduate-level work or well on the way. that was the best teaching experience i'd had in some years at dickinson, and i think as such people became an ever-smaller percentage of the population, my little shelter became all the more important. the sense that i'm abandoning them is what leaves me with whatever guilt i have about this.
can i tell you a story? it's late '83 or early '84. i am living in poverty in london with my gf (eventually wife) rachael in a bedsit in chiswick. she is cleaning nice british people's houses illegally, i am busking on the tube and writing for melody maker (i'm in there like every week, sometimes with multiple pieces. but they are paying...5 lbs a pop or something? more for a big score like when i interviewed cyndi lauper, or would have interviewed chrissie hynde=my crush except she slammed the dressing-room door on (not in) my face at the hammersmith odeon. that only made me love her more, but made it 5 again.) anyway, they give me a plum assignment: fly to paris for two days, interview inxs and see two shows (they had the #1 right then i think), and see how far you can get inside the scene. ok, they were supposed to be these insane australian guys, the hardest-partying pretty boys the world had ever known. plus i actually thought they were a good pop band.
i was not necessarily the person you'd choose for this. i did drink and do drugs, but there was nothing i hated like some big party scene; i prefer to drink alone, actually, etc. this is fine if you're a record reviewer. not if you are doing big tour features and the like. but they were not only flying me to paris, they were paying me like what i'd made for the last 40 pieces or whatever. not saying no.
somehow i hooked up with the dude from new music express on the plane over; we might have known each other from gigs. he had gotten the very same rap: here are the passes. we talked to their people. do not go to the show and then back to the hotel. get the real story. he was this geeky-tall dude fresh caught from oxford. we actually looked at each other with some fear.
so, we cabbed over to the gig at a theatre. i think it was one of those things where the stadium-type band plays like five straight nights at a middle-sized venue. good show, just what you were expecting, very pro. michael hutchence was a pretty paradigm lead singer/showman/sex symbol type, kind of the next iteration of jagger and tyler. i was going to write about that. so, we go backstage. not only are they glad to see us, they were drinking whatever was the best champagne available in france and doing coke from these little mounds (if i had ever done coke, and if i had done it then, i would describe it as not quite like any coke i had ever done before, like if i had ever lived in bethesda with a coke dealer, say). that was trivial, but also there were a bunch of the world's most beautiful women in there, like nothing i had ever seen in my fucking life, seriously. and no other guys but my boy and me.
plenty to go around! said hutchence in his aussie thing. oh har har! i am trying to enter into the spirit of the thing, but to begin to form the picture think about how me and my boy look in this context. i was wearing clothes from london thrift shops (wait rumble shops? they had a term). i cut my own hair without a mirror before i came because the old lady down the hall would use the bathroom for two hours. i am 5'7" and not the very worst in maybe a gradschool context, but i am standing next to hutchence and co. with women whose sudden appearance would flummox any heterosexual man. i'm 22 (oops let's make it 24; i felt 14). also, just for the hell of it, sex was already not going well with my darling.
we split up into two limos? one crit to each limo with some band guys and plenty of girls? we hit multiple stops; i have no idea; socialites' special parties where there's margaret trudeau or something? it got to where we were the most hilarious thing ever, like they said, we brought our writing staff! they say they want to do a biography of michael! he's a redneck american! he was at oxford last year! he's 5 feet tall; he's 7' tall! aren't they scruffy? let's see how far they'll go! we did our part, because we were easily the most verbal people in the region and we were competing madly with each other; the whole way over it was music history trivia and assessments of the gigging bands in london etc. he was so wrong about everything. anyway: my god don't they talk! it's hilarious! let's see if we can shut them up!
after that it is a complete blank. i have this vague notion that they literally rolled me out of the limo in front of the hotel. both me and nme guy missed the gig the next night. but the paris paper said they played great (my boy read french, the fucker). we had collapsed into one room somehow and we sat there groaning, thinking about how to approach our editors. we had this notion that we could help each other fabricate stories that would like be long enough and seem plausible and still have some hijinks etc. we offered to write them for each other; oddly enough we each had little bundles of our own clips along, and we decided that - though each of us regarded ourselves as unique geniuses and disagreed about every pop act who ever played - our prose styles might be indistinguishable for general reader or editor. we thought it would be fun to try; well we were trying to comfort ourselves, like curling up and rocking back and forth for awhile. like we thought we'd tell michael, and he'd still think we were hilarious, and he'd invite us to the next tour, and we'd remember this time and write genius articles.
i think he had a girl who was still at oxford, or maybe u london. both were worried about our drinking, as i recall; maybe we'd both promised to be temperate and chaste. we had to figure out some fabrications there too, and we were helping each other. we could confirm each others' stories and meet each other's lovelies! we never did get any of the pieces to fit, like how we missed the plane, and why the stories looked wrong when they came out and so on and we just sort of gave up eventually over lunch in london. we were each engaged in covert self-examination for clues as to what might have happened with whom. then we drank a little more and passed out and missed our plane back in the morning, as foreshadowed.
i made 5, but he sent me out again as soon as i returned because he did like the review of the show. he just sat there shaking his head as i kind of vaguely drew the picture. he'd seen it before.
hutchence died in 1997, by auto-erotic asphyxiation. it has rather a mythological quality. that is the origin of my personal life telos, the single principle to which my very soul has been dedicated ever since, as often stated on this blog: never die of auto-erotic asphyxiation. the obits are excruciating.
I was screwing around a few years ago looking at YouTube and stumbled on Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks at either a Crossroads or a New Orleans Jazz Festival. She was playing her blonde D'Angelico and with that sweet little girl speaking voice she has said, "This is an old Junior Wells Song" and then proceeded to build a roof over the grounds, set it on fire and send it up to the sky. She was playing with passion and riffing with Derek and just making you know that old Junior, if he is conscious in the universe, was smiling, riffing on the harp and turning to Muddy and saying, "See, that's what I'm talking about..." and then she stepped back and handed the lead duties off to the one basically amazing guitarist who as usual, on his Gibson SG Classic, proceeded to remodel the whole damned stadium, again making his kind of adopted Uncle Dwayne, sitting on the other side of Muddy and leaning forward, to take a swig of Jack Daniels, and scream" Cook it, Kid, Cook it!"
Supposedly the Derek Trucks band and the Susan Tedeschi band are still in existence, but since most of both bands plus some others are in the TTB, I suspect that occasionally everybody just needs to take some time off. In this recording of their complete performance at ACL this year, Susan alludes to the fact that when they started talking about having one band, they watched Mad Dogs and Englishmen and said, "Yeah, that looks like fun...the whole traveling circus." I suspect that they're a lot more disciplined than that was, but still..not a bad inspiration.
There are other great bands out there doing something like this, but they remind me of one of the early 70s Van Morrison tours, maybe The Band and Street Choir -- full horns, double drummers, chorus, and so on. This is a privilege to listen to and fun to watch. Enjoy...
I heard the Burritos out in California could fly higher than the Byrds/ Roger McGuinn had a 12 string guitar, it was like nothing I ever heard... David Allan Coe, "Willie and Waylon and Me"
One of the joys of occasionally invading Crispin's space is to remind the world through my amateur efforts that we're dealing with a guy who should probably be music editor for Rolling Stone or at least their head critic. I always enjoy Crispy's criticism, and while I disagree with him on, well, most issues I do think he has great knowledge and insight on music, musicians, trends and so on. That obeisance paid, Guitar World published one of those lists of the greatest or most important or "Recorded in FSharpMinor" examples that are always fun to pick apart. In this case they are stalking the elusive 12 string guitar, and it's an interesting example of why most music magazines suck.
These things are always open to argument and while we recognize some 12 string work, a lot of it is just there. So some people appear to make the list because, well, they made the list. Either surprise that someone was playing a twelve and it sounded OK, or it's a great song and the band was famous for having a 12 String lead player. Go figure. Or a double-neck guitar -- critics love double neck guitars. So did I when I was fifteen. Unless the guy waving that ax around is Jimmy Page, I inevitably think of Cheap Trick or The Cyrkle when I see one.
the most interesting, and best, pop act i've seen emerge in several years is the duo twenty one pilots. my fifteen-year-old daughter and her set have been listening to them for a couple of years, and as she has adolesced, she has replaced me as the dj for long car rides. anyway, every time one of the pilots' songs came on i'd be all "whoa, who is that?"meanwhile they've suddenly hit with 'stressed out', which, amazingly, is #3 on the billboard chart right now (#1 and 2 are bieber). it's an eclectic and varied approach, a lot of complex play with genre and tempo and melodic changes within the same song and across songs. they'll tell you 'this is not hip hop', but they've definitely got hip hop on board. reggae. rock. synth-pop, punk, neo-folk, and, you know, that max martin current poppy thing too. just gonna assert that they have the best lyrics i have heard coming out of my various playback devices in a long time, both sort of randomly but suggestively poetic and really quite philosophically wild and potent, both intervening in the contemporary culture and pulling you into much deeper reflection. they have three albums, and i'm in the process of assimilating them, but here are a couple of pretty damned amazing examples from blurryface.
this one's for hillary and for anyone whose first question is how to be what people expect you to be.
or how about the lyrics on this one? egads!
or this (!)
and think how many styles you've heard already, and how well they are accomplished and synthesized. i like every single song on the whole album, of course some more than others. there's nothing i just want to skip over. there's some hope that this is the harbinger of the next phase.
or how about some straight musical pleasure?
over the years i have issued several celebrations of the genius of david bowie. 'corpse' is the latest of his protean shape-shifting personae (wait a second: maybe he did that one in '77?). the times obit says he 'transcended music, art, and fashion.' he certainly transcended music. you can see this because people really really love his music, in spite of how it sounds.
it's fine with me to have musical artists where the point is not the music, but then maybe you could skip the audio retrospective? in bowie's case i don't see how the point could possibly ever have had anything to do with the music, and i will say again that 'space oddity' is the worst pop song ever recorded, without a single redeeming feature, and that that basically sets the tone for the oeuvre. the music was an afterthought, or an accessory, or just some more make-up. the words were meaningless. the tunes were boring or derivative. the values were empty and destructive. the effect on rock music was baleful. but it somehow exuded cultural something-or-other, which was enough. so anyway, celebrate him as a liberatory cultural figure if you absolutely must, but leave it there.
i guess i do want to link up to lou reed. i must hate these people's music because of my homophobia! wait, were they gay, or were they just passing in the 70s as a fashion statement? no, i hate their music because it's tuneless, meaningless dreck that reduces music to a fashion accessory. or, as someone who was less interested than most in their eye shadow, i ended up having to focus on their melodies.
i heard a young woman on cnn with a bowie painted eye saying that he gave her the courage to be who she really was, because that's what he was all about. for real? then who was david bowie, really? i realize that people responded to his various genderings, but i would think of him more as a postmodern shape-shifter; the whole point of, say, bowie or warhol is that there is no authentic person underneath, just a series of manufactured images. i think madonna, for example, did this better, even if she herself would give it up for bowie here. i think her music was a lot more fun: better hooks, better beat; i think there were always interesting gender and religious interventions, whereas i thought that bowie's forays were, even in that comparison, superficial. they were both really helped by being beautiful modely-type people, though, and really the spectacle always swamped the music.
or, maybe i'm just bitter because straight women have been subjecting me to this stuff, groaning ecstatically, since 1972, while i tried to sidle inconspicuously out the door or begged for absolute silence, pleading headache. that is the center of the audience, btw (straight, white, bourgeois females), so if you are judging the cultural meaning of these folks, you should take that into account. i love straight white bourgeois females: really; look at my track record. but they have the absolute worst taste in music of any demographic cohort that has ever existed in the history of the world, by a very long way. (haha! vengeance is mine!) let's say the response to bowie was erotic, not melodic. it's like fabian or something: no he can't sing. does that matter? or it's like marilyn monroe singing 'diamonds are a girl's best friend': oh the performance is transcendently excellent - just mesmerizing - if you're a person like me. now just imagine how excellent the music would be if marilyn started making out with jane russell right there! it gives me the courage to be myself!
anyway, ok ok he did have his moments. and if you give me no other choices, i'll put david on before lou. but, now, let me point out that the rise and fall of ziggy stardust and the spiders from mars was issued the same year as the ann peebles song in this cluster. now, considered just as a piece of popular music - really, seriously - which is better? like who's the better singer, for example? who has the better production, band, arrangements, songs? if you have any hesitation about that, you might want to keep your tastes private; i've got no problem with what you listen to in the privacy of your own home - if you really do put that stuff on voluntarily, which i'm finding a little difficult to imagine - but you might consider the damage to your credibility were such a thing to become public. well, in 1972 ( i was 14) we faced an actual choice about which records to buy. even then, some mistakes struck as me as hard to make.
looking at bowie's outfits, fright wigs, makeup, etc: surely you can't think they've aged very well? but man they looked exactly that ridiculous then. and if you thought that this was the direction that rock music should take at that moment - if you wanted this kind of rococo pseudo-opera to be what was coming out of the radio, you were on the wrong side. he was trying to end, kill rock 'n roll entirely. you know, he's connected to jagger on one end and punk on the other, but when you get right down to it, his aesthetic is the opposite of the rolling stones' or the ramones'. you'd be so much better with alice cooper, say: why wasn't he a profound gender-bending innovator, man of many personae, etc? well, he wasn't pretty, and he used horror films rather than sci-fi, but he not only wore eyeshadow; he fucking rocked, while bowie noodled about with his space-alien bullshit.
retroactively, people seem to think of bowie as a unique figure. but everyone was doing gender and personae in the '70s. oh, we might ponder the village people: that was pretty hilarious and profound work on gender with its parodies of hetmale personae, and they had much better songs than bowie. or i think besides alice, you'd have done better to appoint bryan ferry, or sylvester, for example; i think the music and the costumes were better in all these cases.
bye to lemmy. i interviewed him once (maybe '88?), i think for circus magazine. there was some controversy raging over the satanic influence of metal bands like motorhead and twisted sister on the youth of that day, and that generation has, of course, amounted to a chronic infestation of demons. anyway, he was extremely smart and funny on this, and started with a long description about how he and dee snider sacrificed minority children in his basement; that's how they became rock stars in spite of being lemmy and dee snider. cause of death? the coroner suspects that it was death.
like jim morrison and jimi hendrix, lemmy was a fatal genius-baby who prophesied his own death. only 30 years after he wrote 'killed by death', he's all dead and shit.
i try not to gloat, but i was all over that chris stapleton album the week of its release. i said at the the time (may) that it was the only certifiably excellent country album i'd heard this year; it's still the best, anyway. i was shocked to watch it start cleaning up awards.
however, i also loved the chris janson album buy me a boat, for the title cut (which went #1 this fall), but throughout.
i'm going to say that i'm not a big fan of male country music right now. it oscillates between lukebryanfloridageorgialine bro and various springsteeny bellowers. one person who does the latter pretty well, while having some other modes, is eric church, and mr. misunderstood was better than last year's outsiders, anyway. that was merely bombastic; this one works that in, but many other modes too.
[feat. susan tedeschi]
tyler farr alternates between that and a more trad country mode on the pretty-good suffer in peace.
i do want the next jamey johnson album, e.g., which seems past due. also josh turner.
in a way the men of americana are the opposite of the men in msc (mainstream country). the former are, shall we say, extremely sensitive. maybe ryan adams is sort of the model. everybody loved on jason isbell's something more than free this year, and i used to rave about the drive-by truckers in the nypress, etc, where southern rock opera was my #1 one year. anyway, i can't really bring myself actually to like the album, though it's about as good as you can do in this mode.
true, i'm going to do a 'round-up of country, 2015.' maybe not a top ten this year but just some artists, albums, reflections. bizarrely, country is still cisgendered. so let's break it down like that.
two of my very favorite female artists, ashley monroe and kacey musgraves, released albums this year. i was bitterly disappointed with both, even more so in retrospect than at the moment of their release. on the other hand, there was cluster of extremely promising debuts toward the end of the year. one of my favorite slices of music this year was maren morris's eponymous debut, and perhaps "drunk girls don't cry" was my favorite song this year.
also i particularly loved the hailey whitters ep "black sheep"; download 'city girl,' 'long come to jesus,' and 'one more hell.' a fine new voice is country is named 'cam' (also touched on in the last linked entry). really, in terms of a distinctive yet trad new female country voice, she is wonderful. i think probably her whole team was caught a little by surprise when 'burning house' - a really beautiful and tough tradtional song - went to #1, and the album, 'untamed,' might have been rushed into production with some boilerplate, including the miserable title cut. but check 'mayday' or even 'i want it all": bad self-esteen lyrics, maybe, but very very catchy.
i still want more from caroline ('kissin ain't the same as talkin') spence. and i await the heartbreak, cheating-bastard, d-i-v-o-r-c-e album from miranda lambert. you can whine if you like, but i say this: miranda is the best artist working now, the queen of country music, a worthy inheritor of tammy, dolly, and patty loveless.
ok i watched the adele special with my gf, and have been listening to the new album with my daughter (yes, it's true, they are both named jane. my view is this: if you were to date somebody because she had the same name as your daughter, that would be strange and disturbing. on the other hand, it would be sad to eliminate someone on account of a name, for the rose is sweet. however, i also have janes as an ex-mother-in-law and an aunt. it's like an infestation! of beautiful flowers.)
in one way adele's appeal is easy to account for, or at least describe: she is old-fashioned universal pop star, like say dionne warwick or diana ross or barbra streisand or whitney or bruce. she reminds us of a time when like everyone, or at least all sort-of middleclass middlebrow people, were listening to the same thing, or before the audience fragmented even more than it had already. actually the history goes like this: the popular music audience was pretty fragmented in, say the 1940s and 50s, what with race records and hillbilly records and novelty records and double entendre and super-wholesome pop. then it coalesced in the fifties and sixties to some extent. then maybe started to fragment again in the '90s. i'd like to see it as fragmentary as possible, asamatteroffact. i'm going to say that i prefer genre, for whatever reason. i'll seek out the corners of country, hip hop, reggae, punk, cajun, and so on; i find that interesting on cultural and intercultural grounds as well as finding the music more powerful and sincere. but that's just me.
but adele can be listened to by several generations, all regions, etc., though the audience might be a wee bit gendered. but few or perhaps no other artists have audiences of that scope; she becomes an instant touchstone; we will always associate her songs with certain moments in this decade. grandma is not going to listen even to taylor except under coercion. her big special on network tv is really like what american entertainment was like in 1972, unless you got a little off the beaten path, like a peggy lee christmas special.
the material has both obvious appeal and an underlying banality, i must say, and i also am just going to say i don't much like the new album, although the biggest pop hit ever 'hello' is pretty irresistible. maybe that's the only cut i would drive to #1, though. there's a lot of perhaps too-intense emoting on way too many draggy power-ballads; there are no 'rolling in the deep's. the lyrics don't sustain the always flamboyant and frequently despairing emotion. of course the voice is extremely suited for launching extreme emotional fireworks. but i'd like to hear her with a lot more restraint a lot more often. that would make the geysers more moving.
but...gotta admit it: she's just a trascendently excellent singer. not a soul singer, quite, not in any genre, and not pop as that is understood now: top-40 teenagery music. um, 'adult contemporary' to revive an ancient format. but however we place her, she's like whitney on steroids: true power, true range, that real phase-shifty thing that was whitney's trademark, except that adele does it effortlessly all the time. she could sing anything from broadway to opera to aretha and kind of kill you, i bet. she'll be around for the next fifty years. (plus she was super-charming onstage in that special; cackling and herself yet shy and nervous. both human and killer.)
yeah maybe country is bouncing back from the bro nightmare. here's an excellent song that made #1, and the whole chris janson album is good in a neoneoneotrad vein; close enough to pop and to hank.
but what would theodor adorno say?
a profoundly hopeful development was the release yesterday of an ep by maren morris. the 25-year old from texas has taylor and adele on board, maybe a little bonnie raitt, and is throwing down a soulgospelblues thing which is simultaneously pop enough to roll up the country charts. there's even an interesting little phoebe-snow jazz thing in her voice, and i feel that the songs are extremely hooky and propulsive.