Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Queen of the Hook

I can't get over how brilliant The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is. I recently put it on again and was re-blown away, the way I seem to be every 3 years or so ever since 1998. Did I just say 1998??? damn.

The Decline of Western Literature

I came across this article recently, from 2007 in the New Yorker, and it got me thinking about the argument Drischord and I started having a couple of months back in the comments sections about the decline of intellectualism, (an argument which Drischord waged too well for me to put in the necessary time to try to refute him, in the middle of what was a very busy month for me.) I don't want to try to resurrect that whole discussion--at least not right now--but this article raised a lot of questions in my mind, and I wanted to throw some of those questions out there.

The New Yorker references an NEA study that Drischord referred to, discussing the decline in reading among American adults. It goes into a lot of questions about the relative merits of reading vs. television viewing, and the different effects each activity has on your brain, and though I won't summarize it here it's pretty interesting reading. I don't necessarily disagree with anything in the article, and as an almost pathologically voracious reader, I probably wouldn't even want to. I agree that reading is a unique and powerful activity that allows you to process knowledge and weigh opposing viewpoints to form a personal opinion in a way that television doesn't allow.

But I also think that fighting this trend in the decline of reading--at least the decline of the reading of traditional novels and books--is in some ways swimming against the tide of history. For me, the most powerful expression of this fact is the quality of the contemporary literary scene in America. This may simply reveal my status as a very particular type of snob, but while I'm an incredibly voracious reader, I rarely have any interest in novels written after about 1960. There are exceptions, but on the whole I feel that the quality of contemporary fiction has gone down measurably, at the same time that contemporary television has, by many measures, skyrocketed up. We are at this point a deeply visual and digital culture, and by far the most vital, interesting, complicated, and culturally significant art of the past 20 years has been in movies and television. Maybe being inundated with television since childhood has simply made our brains function in a different way, and made us incapable of producing the kind of literature that we used to. Or maybe I'm just completely wrong, but I present for your consideration:

1. What serious novel of the last 20 years is as well wrought, resonant, and culturally relevant as either The Sopranos or The Wire?

2. What satiric novel of the last 20 years has been as scathing, genuinely hilarious, and culturally relevant as The Simpsons, South Park, or much of the work of Ricky Gervais?

3. What English language novel of the last 20 years approaches the brilliance of the English language writing going on earlier in the 20th century, by such authors as Hemingway, Faulkner, Ellison, and Fitzgerald, to say nothing of James Joyce.

I'm seriously asking those questions, because if there is a recent satiric novel nearly as good as The Simpsons, I would desperately like to read it. Point me towards it!

And for question number 3, I'll just add that I know the usual response. From a slightly older crowd the answer tends to be: Roth, Delillo, Updike, Morrison. (Maybe this is just personal taste, but I would argue that with the possible exception of Toni Morrison, none of those writers are in a class with the previous generation.) Sometimes they'll also bring up Cormac McCarthy, whom in many ways I like, but who is just simply no William Faulkner. And perhaps more tellingly, all those above writers are in their 70s or dead, and in the search for younger talent the answer tends to be: David Foster Wallace, David Foster Wallace, David Foster Wallace...and if somebody really wants to go out on a limb, David Foster Wallace. Maybe one of these days I'll work up the gumption to read Infinite Jest, and then I can really comment on him in detail. But since nothing in his shorter work has ever led me to think I'd enjoy it...that may be one of those things that goes unread.

Anyway, that's my rant for the day. Please let me know where I've gone wrong!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sly & The Family Stone

This is a band who I've just recently become kind of obsessed with. I mean, I've appreciated them and considered myself a fan for a long time, but I just started digging deeper into their catalog and really beginning to "get" them in a way I never did before. And all I have to say is... this band is incredible. Listen to the bass, the drums, the horns, the way it all comes together to just become this crazy dance party with an intelligence behind the groove. Great stuff.

Here's one of my new favorites - "Life" performed on Ed McMahon. At first I found the horns kind of cheesy, but tell me that horn riff doesn't stick in your head and bring a smile to your face.

And my favorite = "Stand"

"There's a midget standing tall, and a giant beside him about to fall." That's one great lyric for my money.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cosmic American Music

Eric's recent mention of Gram Parsons got me going back through the Flying Burrito et al. catalog, and there is some great, great stuff in there! For my money though, the most entertaining/fascinating song of the whole bunch may be a very early one called "Blue Eyes", from back when Parsons was recording with the International Submarine Band, before he joined The Byrds. It seems to encapsulate all the themes of his later career in one hopping little country song: a romanticisation of simple country family life, a probably self-conscious inference that the singer is a "poor boy", and a wandering, drug using, hippie mentality tying it all together. I'm tempted to see this song as the seed of the whole "Cosmic American/Hippie/Alt-Country" movement that continues to this day, though there may well be an earlier example somewhere.

At any rate, back when I was a drug-addled 19-year-old and full on superfan of alt-country (to a degree that I may never again be a superfan of anything), music didn't get much better for me than "I've got chores to keep me busy/A clock to keep my time/A pretty girl to love me/With the same last name as mine". And quite frankly, even though I now have some ironic distance from it, deep down that chorus still gets me every single time. It's a little like that last scene in Field of Dreams: I can see exactly the way I'm being emotionally manipulated, but I'm helpless all the same. In fact, if I may continue: "And when the flowers wilt/A big old quilt/To keep us warm/I've got the sun to see your blue eyes/And tonight you're in my arms."

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Synthesizer Patel

Q asked about Synthesizer Patel in the Wilco comments, and I got curious. Of course, the internet being what it is, my question was solved... kind of.

Apparently he's a British, what? Comedian? Performance Artist? Synthesizer Enthusiast? Who knows, but you owe it to yourself to watch this:

Monday, July 06, 2009

Is Gorillaz the future after all?

As the former leader of an extraordinarily short lived country/hip hop ensemble, I've long been interested in the possibilities offered by crossing hip hop over with other forms of mainstream music. This is not to say I've long been a fan of rock/hip hop mashups, as for much of the time I've been aware of pop music such mashups have often had an unholy quality: either an obnoxious cash-in like Jay-Z with Linkin' Park, or Fred Durst...being Fred Durst, or even Rage Against the Machine, which, let's face it, is best left these days as a fond remembrance of pseudo-political adolescent rage, and almost never makes it into my music rotation.

But lately there's been more and more rap/rock mashing up, and I'm finding it absolutely fascinating to see the direction it's taking. Some of it involves projects such as Boots Riley's (of the Coup), who got together with an ex-Rage guitarist recently for some guitar soaked communist ranting. But a lot of it is more pop centered, and is being driven by rappers who are huge fans of...really unexpected stuff. There is of course The Roots' love of Fall Out Boy (which I don't understand, but have to respect, The Roots being The Roots). But the most fascinating thing I've come across in awhile is the below video for a guy named Kevin Rudolph, who sounds like a lost disciple of Blur and Coldplay, singing "Let it Rock" as Lil' Wayne spends most of the video singing along, at least pretending to play a guitar (which we've of course seen him do in videos even for songs featuring no discernible guitar track), and finally even rapping for a minute. And God help me, I actually kind of like the song. Maybe Gorillaz was more ahead of it's time than I ever gave it credit for.

The embedding was disabled for some reason. Watch it here!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Wilco (The Blog Post)

There hasn't been much discussion of the new Wilco album yet--how's it sitting with everybody? Personally, I'm not yet blown away by it as an entire album, but there are a few songs that I'm really loving. Highlights for me include:

"Wilco" As fun a little rock number as they've ever done.

"Bull Black Nova" Maybe the weirdest track on the album, and probably my favorite. Combines some of the loud freak-out stuff from Ghost is Born with the jammy, Sky Blue Sky style give and take between instruments. I really really like this one.

"You Never Know" Melodic, fun, awesome lyrics, I love it.

"Solitaire" I feel like my first 3 picks won't be that controversial, but I'm curious what others think of this song. I really love it. For some reason, when Tweedy sings "Once I thought the world was crazy/Everyone was sad and chasing/Happiness and love and/I was the only one above it" it cuts me to the fucking bone. And plus, after all this time, I'm still a sucker for a little understated steel guitar.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

More on Michael Jackson's best

I ran across this Michael Jackson obituary in the New Yorker, which was most interesting to me for the light it shed on the African origins of the "mamma say mamma sa..." lyrics.

And here is the link to the song "Soul Makossa" as mentioned in the article.