Torch Ballads & Jukebox Music

March 17, 2015

Rites of Danhood: On Liking Steely Dan 8

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Steely Dan was like nothing I’d ever heard, and not in an enticing way. It seemed to be the worst of jazz and the most boring of rock rolled into one mutant, bad-sex package. It sounded like what sad aliens might listen to when they got around to masturbating.

January 8, 2015

Loser on the Moon: On Leonard Cohen, Fandom, and Posterity 9

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What is it about Leonard Cohen that not only commands my interest but can also set off no small burst of emotion? Something else, too: what exactly is my legitimate stake in someone else’s posterity? Even as a fan.

April 3, 2014

Liner Notes: A Poetry Playlist 4

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Poetry and music share a word of process — composition — and are linked by negotiations of melody, harmony, rhythm, proportion, and discord. Here is a poetry playlist: 10 poets offer their composition soundtracks.

March 6, 2014

Bird Lives: On Stanley Crouch’s Kansas City Lightning 10

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I submit that the kind of place Parker holds within jazz tradition is a little like what you would get if you mixed Beethoven with Jimi Hendrix. He was a game changer.

November 26, 2013

I Found a Way to Enter: Diving Into Writing 3

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I want to look for my entry onto the page, into a line, an image, a something. The seven-plus-minute song “Reflektor” has become a ritual these days. Blast it louder and maybe the portal will appear. Will I dive in?

November 4, 2013

Lou Reed, Sonic Contrarian 22

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Most of the personal tributes I’ve seen don’t just talk about how great a musician Lou Reed was but how his fine, fine music literally changed their lives.

July 31, 2013

Motown: The Musical vs. the Literary 5

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Anyone who wants to know what made Motown great and what killed Motown should not go to Broadway. They should turn to books. The body of Motown Lit lays out a tragedy every bit as fascinating, maddening, and depressing as the tragedy of Detroit itself.

May 3, 2013

The Song I Could Not Stop Singing: On “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” 2

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There came upon me, not rationally but massively, the conviction that if I continued to sing this song then my parents would die. And yet I could not stop singing it. There I would be, walking blithely through the house, or walking blithely across the garden, and then realize that for the last few seconds, I had, yet again, been singing of Maxwell Edison and his homicidal hammer, and a great dread would invade me, because it meant, this singing, the removal of my parents from the world.

February 13, 2013

The Kid Is Alright: On Teddy Wayne’s The Love Song of Jonny Valentine 1

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Does it matter to us how culture is made? Won’t we swallow the cooked-up laboratory celebrity just as easily as the authentic talent?

January 10, 2013

Beautiful and Exciting and Profoundly Different: On Beck’s Song Reader 2

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I have just channeled Beck’s spirit through printed paper! The first versions of Beck’s songs I hear are my own! This is an amazing feeling.