Torch Ballads & Jukebox Music

September 28, 2015

Pump Down the Volume: On Writing With Background Music 13


It’s a tempting narrative, and one that fits with the Internet’s culture of simple solutions: If you’re having trouble with that short story, just put on some Brian Eno. Your latent genius will be unleashed.

July 2, 2015

Let Us Now Be Grateful That They’re (Finally!) (Honestly!) (Really Really Really!) Dead 9


The Grateful Dead’s final tour is another reminder that the band long ago became a large corporation with a bottom line to consider. That’s not a knock on their success. It’s just a fact.

June 18, 2015

Can U Tell Me? Short Stories as Pop Songs 0


As I’ve thought through the possible criteria for determining the literary equivalent of a pop song, I’ve thought of so many stories that fit the bill, stories that have gotten under my skin, stories that I have to share. Unable to resist that urge, I’ve put together a Thriller-sized playlist of nine pop-musical short stories.

March 17, 2015

Rites of Danhood: On Liking Steely Dan 8


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 11


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


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 11


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


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


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


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.