A Few More Thoughts on Western Swing
August 27, 2010
By the emails I’ve gotten since my post about Arcade Fire and its antecedents in the Western Swing movement of the early postwar era, I can tell that nothing I’ve put up in this space so far has shocked readers as much as the sight of a cowboy playing a harp—not a harmonica, but an actual 47-string concert harp—in a genre-smashing hillbilly jazz band. Even at the time Spade Cooley created “Miss Molly,” in 1945, surprise was part of the point—the formal and the informal, the rural and the urban, conjoined.
The Ballads of Steven Slater
August 20, 2010
Among the more rational propositions blurted forth by John Lennon in the early 1970s was a notion to release his new songs on cardboard 45-RPM singles. Lennon had just relocated from London to New York, and he seemed to be following the tracks of Bob Dylan's bootheels from Dylan's first days in the city a decade earlier, when he had fashioned himself after Woody Guthrie as a leftie newshound with an acoustic guitar.
August 13, 2010
Nicely timed to capitalize on the boom market for breezy fun in the month of August, Arcade Fire’s third album, The Suburbs, supplanted Eminem’s dreary Recovery on the top of the pop-music charts this week. The Arcade Fire album is the band’s most tuneful and bouncy—irresistible pop dressed up in the indie-music uniform of fiddles, accordion, and twang, the sonic equivalent of Ben Sherman shirts and thrift-store wingtips. Lyrically, The Suburbs has vaguely to do with entering adulthood without submitting to the conformity that the suburbs represent, simplistically, in the album.
August 12, 2010
Nicely timed to capitalize on the boom market for breezy fun in the month of August, Arcade Fire’s third album, The Suburbs, supplanted Eminem’s dreary Recovery on the top of the pop-music charts this week. The Arcade Fire album is the band’s most tuneful and bouncy—irresistible pop dressed up in the indie-music uniform of fiddles, accordion, and twang, the sonic equivalent of Ben Sherman shirts and old wingtips. Lyrically, The Suburbs has vaguely to do with entering adulthood without submitting to the conformity that the suburbs represent, simplistically, in the album.
Acknowledging the First Auteur of the Recording Studio
August 06, 2010
Having been taught by my mother not to say anything to a stranger if I can't say something nice, I chomped my teeth into my tongue the only time I met the notorious producer of schlock pop Mitch Miller. It happened about ten years ago, once when I was taking the crosstown bus from East 97th St. to the West Side of Manhattan. The bus was crowded, and I found myself literally pressing flesh with Miller. Our noses were perhaps two inches apart, so I turned mine, pretending not to recognize him.
Playtime at the Whitney Museum
July 30, 2010
Cutely named "Festival" (or, more precisely and more cutely, "Christian Marclay: Festival"), the art installation and music series at the Whitney Museum this summer has a festiveness, a block-party atmosphere, rare in the contemporary avant-garde. Musically, Marclay's work is lightweight; but so is a birthday balloon, and both are fun, if susceptible to over-inflation. A dilettante of near genius, Marclay has for three decades now been dabbling ambitiously in places where music, the visual arts, and performance art overlap.
July 22, 2010
There is localism, and there is yokelism. Which was the greater factor in Harvey Pekar’s mystique? I considered the question in an illuminating location this week. My wife, who is a singer, took a booking at a swanky hotel in Palm Beach, and our seven-year-old son and I tagged along to support her and to sunbathe.
On Harvey Pekar
July 16, 2010
I'd like to honor divergent traditions and share a couple of thoughts about Harvey Pekar, the comic-book writer, cult celebrity, and jazz lover, who died on July 12 at age 70. In eulogistic tradition, I have some nice things to say. Pekar cared deeply about music and made a life-long study of jazz. He came to the genre, as many of his fans came to him, in pursuit of a kind of anti-heroism that reinforced his self-image as an outcast marginalized for his superiority.
The Best and Worst Songs of Summer
July 09, 2010
Hot town, New York has been this week. Walking around, feeling half-dead, I've found myself singing the great old Lovin' Spoonful paean to urban torpor and release, "Summer in the City," to myself. It's remarkably durable for a song about the summer, a season that has inspired more dumb, junky songs than any other time of year. Doubtful?
Play It, It's Yours
June 25, 2010
While incompetence is a common condition of amateurism, it is not a requirement of it. Plenty of non-professionals in all of the arts are well-skilled, in many cases expertly trained and perhaps even seasoned in their disciplines. The only absolute prerequisite for amateur status is passion. You have to want very badly to sing or play the piano or draw or tap-dance, if you'll do it with no prospect of recognition or compensation. And if very badly is also the way you do the thing, your passion has to run deep.