Torch Ballads & Jukebox Music

April 3, 2014

Liner Notes: A Poetry Playlist 3

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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 9

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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.

October 24, 2012

Frankly Singing 5

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Two weeks ago, I told my father I’d been assigned to report Frank Sinatra, Jr.’s concert, told him I had a second press pass for a photographer. My father heard me loud and clear. He went out and bought a telescopic Nikon. It was at that point that dread began to gnaw on his daughter.

July 24, 2012

Chuck Berry, Neoclassicist 16

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Blues, country and western, Johnsonian neoclassicism: these are the traditions that nurture Chuck Berry’s lyrical art. But really, who gives a damn about the categories when you’re listening to something as smoking as “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”?