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June 30, 2009

My Curse to You

Filed under: Pop Life — Alex Rawls @ 9:10 am

 

Last night, a friend told me that he and a buddy in Arkansas started sending each other text messages jamming two song titles together – “Tangled Up in Blue Suede Shoes,” “You Really Got Me and Mrs. Jones” – and how the text exchange became obsessive, morphing into more complex interpolations of titles – “Where the Streets of Your Town Have No Name,” “Something in the Air That I Breathe”. After he told me about this, we’d both periodically interrupt whatever we were talking about to bark out another one: “New Girl in a Town Called Malice,” “Ventura Highway to Hell.” Now I find it compulsive as well. While driving to work and listening to WTIX, I’d come up with one for the song on the radio – “Show and Tell Me Something Good” when Al Wilson’s hit came up – even though there was no one in the car with me.

Now see if you can resist doing it too.

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June 29, 2009

Where’s Maxwell?

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 8:22 am

 

In Sunday’s New York Times, Jon Pareles profiles Maxwell, who’ll headline the Essence Music Festival Saturday on the main stage. In the piece, he writes about Maxwell’s almost 8-year-long sabbatical from his career:

Hod David, the guitarist who has been Maxwell’s collaborator since the early 1990s and who produced the new album with him, said that Maxwell made a deliberate decision to withdraw. “He wanted to live a little bit.” Mr. David also said that in the early 2000s he and Maxwell were contemplating R&B and hip-hop in “the bling era” and trying to figure out where they might fit in. Over years of on-and-off songwriting and recording they never did.

“You wonder, is there a place for me?” Maxwell said. “And that would be a bit of a writing block experience for me.”

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June 28, 2009

Sad, to be Kind

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , — Alex Rawls @ 3:16 pm

This is inevitable, but dance music artist Kynt posted this “New Orleans Bounce Remix” of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall.” It’s hard for me to hear it as anything but exploitative, but assuming that it isn’t, Michael deserves a tribute with more life and imagination than this. After two or so minutes, the depressing realization kicks in that Kynt is out of ideas and the track isn’t half-over.

Kynt: (”Off the Wall” New Orleans Bounce Remix”)

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June 26, 2009

The Challenge

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , , , — Alex Rawls @ 8:30 am

 

How do you write about Michael Jackson that doesn’t seem brutally reductive? Tom Moon, writer of 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die,  addressed this question on his blog:

Normally I’m of the “trust the art, not the artist” mindset, but when my first draft had nothing about his foibles – those lapses in judgement, the physical transformations, the odd behavior – it seemed myopic, a willful whitewash that didn’t equip the uninitiated to understand Michael Jackson. As great as Thriller is, and it is as near-perfect a pop music experience as is available to us, what happened in its aftermath is a sordid, painful, arguably preventable tragedy, with a few brilliant tracks interspersed along the way.

I’ve always assumed that many of the songs that mean the most to me were made by people who’d be an asshole to me if I met them, so holding Jackson’s eccentricities and personal life against him seems a little unfair (as does excusing the molestation accusations as “personal prefs” on the other side). But I lost interest after Thriller because of the person – not who Jackson was, but the difficulty I had making the public persona and the music fit together. It was easy to imagine that when he sang Jackson 5 songs, the sentiments expressed were his or could be his. That was also the case with Off the Wall and for Thriller – for the most part –  but by Bad, there was no getting around it. He didn’t seem bad to me. His cuddly, idiosyncratic glam of the Thriller era tested my disbelief where the image of him as a lover was presented, but I could get it, sort of. As gang leader, though – no. As a smooth criminal – no. As black and white – no; more like neither, and the more removed he seemed from normal appearances, the harder it was to believe there was any relationship between the words to the songs and him.

For me, the video revolution that he helped usher in ultimately hurt him because from the Bad era on, his videos lived in the long shadow of the Thriller videos, and it was hard to watch them without seeing the way their agendas compelled awkward and unconvincing artistic decisions. Big budgets, as if budgets were a de facto measure of quality. Special effects, as if filmic techniques made his videos on par with movies. Guest stars, as if celebrities are a form of validation. The results seemed desperate and antiseptic, as if every detail had been micromanaged to such a degree that the milieu created was utterly detached from a reality I recognize. In short, the persona he’d created through his videos made his music hard hear as credible.

When I hear post-Thriller Jackson – which isn’t that often – I’m occasionally struck by the songs-as-songs. The musical phrase, “Do you remember the time?” runs through my mind with surprising regularity considering I doubt I’ve heard the song in the last five years. But while people I respect are devastated by Jackson’s death, it’s been too long since he gave me a reason to care for me to join them.

Update: 11:45 a.m. – After writing this, I found Alex V. Cook had some similar thoughts, and since he linked to a track from John Oswald’s Plunderphonics album – a radical rearrangement/reconstruction of Jackson’s Bad and itself an evocative object in light of Jackson’s own plastic surgery – I’ve included this link.

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The Limits of Celebrity

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 5:21 am

US Weekly and numerous other tabloid weeklies have photo features that show that celebrities are just like us. They shop, they walk their dogs, play with their kids, and drink coffee. Another similarity – the famous are no better than the rest of us at expressing themselves in 140 characters or less. Last night, the Grammy Twitter feed relayed thoughts on Michael Jackson’s passing, most of which were pedestrian at best:

@Pink Michael Jackson was one of the best that ever did it. RIP

@coldplay MJ was the best of the best. His music and performances made the world a brighter place. His light will shine on forever.

Justin Timberlake: “We have lost a genius and a true ambassador of not only Pop music but of all music.”

@chriscornell Just Heard Michael Jackson died. Makes me sad. I remeber the Jackson 5 on a black and white tv. He had magic!

@rayraysaadiq God, Thank you for giving us Michael Jackson, And thank you Michael for giving us real music, your legend can never die,

@heavyd RIP….BEST THAT EVER DI IT….MJ

@neildiamond Michael Jackson was brilliant and I will miss him.

@freddurst On this tour I have been paying tribute to MJ by wearing his beat it jacket and … Read More: http://is.gd/1e1xz

@SaraBareilles I’m sad that Michael Jackson died. And Farrah. What a weird day. I’m going to eat cheese and watch CNN. Sniff.

Actually, I like that one, and this next one entertains me because it was posted this morning.

@backstreetboys If the MJ rumors are true, our hearts go out 2 his family + all his fans. He was & always will b one of our inspirations.

This one gives me hope for celebrities. They are like us; they’re crazy too.

@seankingston RT: MJ died the 25th , Aaliyah died the 25th, Static Major died the 25th, Left Eye the 25th too, James Brown 12/25 ..WOW!


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June 25, 2009

Voodoo Fights Alzheimer’s

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , — Alex Rawls @ 6:15 am

I’ve been told that undertaking mental challenges like sudokus and crosswords helps to fight the onset of Alzheimer’s. If so, Voodoo Music Experience is doing its part to help keep you lucid longer by releasing its schedule on Twitter as a series of word scrambles. Yesterday I got Ween, Eagles of Death Metal and Trombone Shorty, but one of two stumped me (but I was always lousy at scrambles).

If you don’t want to play, check out our special Weekly Beat Friday morning, when we’ll have the full lineup.

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June 24, 2009

The Company You Keep

 

We’re pretty excited about this year’s Press Club award nominations, and part of the thrill is the company we’re keeping. It’ll be a shame when I beat friends that I respect and admire including Doug MacCash, Alison Fensterstock, Ben Sandmel, Jason Berry, Ian McNulty and comrade-in-arms here at OffBeat, John Swenson, but I’d like to think that crowd and the other nominees indicate that the story of New Orleans after Katrina is being well-told. Congratulations to all.

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June 23, 2009

Help Needed?

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 5:29 pm

At the Rising Tide 4 bloogers conference, the day started with a discussion of culture. It raised an interesting tension as a social aid and pleasure club rep called for governmental assistance to bring parade culture back and help it flourish. The irony in that is that SAPCs were borne out of the realization that the community was on its own. Obviously, wed like it to be easier for SAPCs and Mardi Gras Indians to hit the streets, but the turn from a self-sufficient culture to a relief culture is worrying.

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He Means it, Man

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , , , — Alex Rawls @ 7:35 am

 

Typically, I’m suspicious of the humorless and literal. More often that not, the combination leads to well-meant but obvious art. In the liner notes to Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, hypno-bluesman Otis Taylor explains that “Lost My Guitar” is about losing a guitar, and that “Mama’s Best Friend” is about mama leaving dad for another woman – something you’d have to be clod to miss in the lyrics. And if there’s even a grin in here anywhere, I can’t find it.

But like most of Taylor’s work, I’m completely taken by the album. He repeats the few lines that constitute the lyrics to his songs as if he is considering what they mean, listening to his own words for resonances he hadn’t thought about. The simple slowly becomes profound, and the trance-oriented arrangements do their job. After the eight-minute “Walk on Water,” every song seems to go on for ever, but not in a tedious sense. More accurately, they’re songs you get lost in to such a degree that you can’t be sure if you’ve been listening to them for three, five or 20 minutes.

On this album, he works with an expanded musical palate including British blues/metal guitarist Gary Moore, pianist Jason Moran and cornetist Ron Miles along with various strings, percussionists and frequently his daughter Cassie on bass and/or vocals. While his guitar establishes a repeated, circular figure, the other instruments scurry around, reinforcing it at one point, then trying to break free of its orbit at others. As a result, there’s a bristling energy and musical adventurousness that serves as an undercurrent beneath Taylor’s songs of quiet struggles for dignity. And his own intensity makes it work, sense of humor or no.

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June 21, 2009

Planning for Your Future

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , — Alex Rawls @ 12:19 pm

While a season of So You Think You Can Dance? is underway, the judges are spending their weekends traveling to audition sites so the show can be start again in late September – on the fall schedule for the first time.

When I asked judge Mary Murphy about possible futures for Dance contestants, she rhymed off more than a dozen names and their gigs – in videos, on Broadway, on Dancing with the Stars, and so on. As she went on, I doubted I could match her employed American Idol contestant for So You Think You Can Dance? contestant. I certainly doubt many Idol alum are having the careers they envisioned, but considering how improbable a dance career sounds, So You Think You Can Dance? may be better success story. Considering the competition – “hundreds” in New Orleans, we were told, vs. “thousands” at least for American Idol tryouts – Dance might be the better bet for those looking to establish a career through reality talent competition shows.

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