every few months for ten years or more, i've been checking itunes for the van morrison live album it's too late to stop now, which is my candidate for best live rock album (but really, if i were assigning it to a genre, it'd be soul, though soul and rock aren't perfectly distinct by any means). i have it on lp, but i wore it out in the 70s so bad that's it's mostly unplayable. anyway, it is up, the original two-record set along with multiple further volumes. i'm not sure just what those are, but will explore.
the thing is just great: it's a big band with horn section and strings, recorded with no overdubs. van is wildly improvisational and eccentric, but also working perfectly with the band and the arrangements, and there are so many great songs, some of them in quite their best versions, like this:
it was released in '73, and i have always speculated that the early springsteen albums would be impossible without it; the instrumental configuration is similar, as also the street-corner symphony of the lyric themes and even the vocal style. only, van is so so much better: there's always a lilt, a subtlety, an idiosyncrasy, a change of tempo or emphasis, a sense of play. in contrast, i hear springsteen as pretentious, big for the sake of big, with a bludgeoning and unsubtle rhythm and bellowing vocals that i associate with my chronic headaches from the era. bs might get whytheysucked pretty soon by the way.
the new brandy clark album, big day in a small town, is certainly the best country album so far this year, and brandy is the best songwriter working anywhere near mainstream country music, and one of the very best singers. it might be better than twelve stories, which is saying something. there are no weak songs. the specificity, realism, narrative structure,and phrasemaking are incomparable. what would she charge to write the whole next kacey musgraves album?
the biggest shift from 12 stories is the production. that one used a very stripped-down acoustic frame; she sounds great like that. believe it or not, i think she's been listening to taylor swift and stuff. well, she wants some hit singles, and if anyone should have them, she should. and i think that all the different production styles work beautifully with the songs, and it is all country no matter the frame.
i've been on the other side of that, which is a long hard road, so to speak. perhaps i should write a reply, or maybe joe maphis already did. but don't think that it's all that poppy; she uses a variety of approaches, including more trad things (but it is all more 'produced' than the last album). how about this lyric?:
anyway, just great song after great song; i'd like to post them all.
i really don't have any twitter skills. i'd like to launch #whytheysuck, though. and in any forum, i'd like to hear your candidates: people who are more or less universally adored and horribly overrated, or who face untreated sucking issues. it's like an intervention; we're doing it because we care, for the suckers' own good. they will never stop sucking and start blowing until they admit they have a sucking problem
the debut of sister sadie is the best bluegrass album i've heard in some time. beautiful singing and virtuoso picking.
just like the original runaways, one of them's a banker and one is the director of academic advising at belmont university. and just like the original runaways, they love jesus and feature the great dale ann bradley.
the mandolin is killer; watch her chop the rhythm on the one below. these vids don't give you the quartet vocals, which are so lovely.
"Depart from me this moment" I told her with my voice Said she, "But I don't wish to" Said I, "But you have no choice" "I beg you, sir", she pleaded From the corners of her mouth "I will secretly accept you And together we'll fly south".
Just then Tom Paine, himself Came running from across the field Shouting at this lovely girl And commanding her to yield And as she was letting go her grip Up Tom Paine did run "I'm sorry, sir", he said to me "I'm sorry for what she'd done".
if you need me to start explaining why that sucks there's no hope anyway.
Winterlude, Winterlude, my little apple Winterlude by the corn in the field Winterlude, let's go down to the chapel Then come back and cook up a meal Well, come out when the skating rink glistens By the sun near the old crossroad sign The snow is so cold but our love can be bold Winterlude, don't be rude please be mine.
Winterlude, Winterlude, my little daisy Winterlude by the telephone wire Winterlude, it's making me lazy Come one, sit by the logs in the fire The moonlight reflects from the window Where the snowflakes they cover the sand Come out tonight everything will be tight Winterlude, this dude thinks you're grand.
Something there is about you that moves with style and grace I was in a whirlwind, now I am in some better place My hand's on the sabre and you've picked up on the baton Something there is about you that I can't quite put my finger on.
Idiot wind blowing every time you move your mouth Blowing down the backroads heading south Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth You're an idiot babe It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe
Old man sailin' in a dinghy boat Down there Old man sailin' in a dinghy boat On there Gonna pull man down on a suckling hook Gonna pull man into the suckling brook Oh yeah !
these five examples are drawn from the first seven songs i looked at. the other two weren't good either. 'overrated' doesn't even begin to cut it. there has never been a less competent lyricist.
watcha listenin to, exprofcrispy? my candidate for the most underrated recording artist of all time: ann peebles, everything i can get ahold of. she is at once in the mainline of great soul singers - aretha, for one - but also with something completely distinctive. man she sounds both letter-perfect and perfectly spontaneous, every time out. without checking, i'm going to say that 'i can't stand the rain' (one of the great songs in pop music history) might have been her only top ten hit. but there is a truckload of great material. for one thing, it's the hi record shop (responsible also for all those great al green songs): comparable to the stax/volt or muscle shoals soul shops, but with a groove at once mellower and more evil.
man the horn charts just kill me. gonna also direct you to 'i'm gonna tear your playhouse down' and 'feel like breakin up somebody's home,' which i've blogged before. the albums straight from the heart and tellin' it. also i'm strongly recommending hi records: the soul years, with the great o.v wright, among others.
He admitted that he lived in Nashville because that was where the work was for him, but he as Texan as you can be, and all in a good way. Work hard, drink some whiskey, sit around with friends and talk shit while passing the IW Dance and a guitar. Be tolerant, kind, and take no shit. He was a frequent visitor to the "Guitar Pulls" at Johnny Cash's home. People would show up, play their stuff, and pick and grin and bullshit. Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Rodney Crowell, John Anderson, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris,Bobby Bare and whomever else was around would show up. Showcase their new stuff casually -- somewhere between "I've been working on this one" and "networking." Get ideas, add and steal licks, sing some harmony and learn from each other how their music could sound.
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 davidbowie. 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.
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.