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kottke.org posts about music

The Legend of Nixon, a Data-Driven NES Soundscape

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2019

Brian Chirls took the approval ratings for Richard Nixon’s presidency and using sounds from The Legend of Zelda’s classic Dungeon Theme, he made a data-driven soundscape of the public perception of Nixon’s tenure in the White House. Here’s what his approval rating looked like:

Richard Nixon Approval

And here’s the resulting audio track:

The sound effects mostly represent actions the protagonist Link takes like the “sword slash”, things that happen to him like a grunt when he gets hurt, or the status of the game like the low health alarm that beeps when Link has only half a “heart container” left and can only take one or two more hits before he dies and the game is over. The goal of this project is to create a piece of audio that sounds like a typical playthrough of the game and also accurately tells the story of Nixon’s fall as represented by the data.

What a cool example of using the familiar to explain or illustrate the unfamiliar. If you’ve ever played Zelda, you can clearly hear Nixon doing more and more poorly as the track goes on — he’s taking damage, the dungeon boss sound chimes in right around when Watergate is ramping up, and he’s gaining fewer hearts. It’s like he’s a novice player armed only with the wooden sword trying to defeat the level 3 dungeon without a potion…the end comes pretty quickly.

Some Observations on Leaving Neverland

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2019

I watched Leaving Neverland last night in one four-hour sitting…as in I literally didn’t leave the sofa. Completely riveting. Here are some thoughts I have about it.

1. At its heart, this is not actually a movie about Michael Jackson. It’s about two men, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, whose lives were utterly ruined by a man they idolized & trusted. Their childhood innocence ripped away. Their families torn apart. Their current families left wondering if they can be trusted with their own children. As the movie progresses, Jackson almost fades into the background and the viewer is just left with these men, feeling and empathizing with them and their families.

2. One of the things I was most struck by, especially in the early part of the film, was the way the two men and their families described Jackson in almost a tender, loving way. There was little on-camera anger and lashing out (although there undoubtably was during their still-ongoing recovery process). I was left with a feeling of unease that in a deep and complicated way, these two men still care for Jackson. That feeling’s gonna stay with me for a loooong time.

3. As I’m writing this post, one of Jackson’s songs echoes in my head: “Heal the world / Make it a better place / For you and for me.” I have no idea what to make of this or how to process it.

4. It is pretty simple. Unless you’re willing to perform complicated mental gymnastics to bamboozle yourself into conspiracy theory land, the plain truth is that Michael Jackson was a pedophile. You can feel however you want about that — he was a monster, he was a man broken by his own abusive childhood & twisted by the vortex of fame — but you cannot simply dismiss it. Maureen Orth covered previous accusations about Jackson for Vanity Fair; her recent article is a good short summary of the facts.

5. If you’re a famous actor who spent lots of one-on-one time with Jackson when you were a child, why would you ever in a million years tell anyone that he sexually abused you?

6. A statement released by the Jackson estate said that Leaving Neverland is “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death”. Who knows if they actually watched the film because it is the opposite of a sensationalistic hit piece. This isn’t Michael Moore bombast. The film is careful, methodical, and, aside from some slightly ominous music at times, quite respectful towards Jackson given the circumstances. As Wesley Morris writes, “‘LEAVING NEVERLAND’ is long but delicately, patiently done — and so quiet; you can practically hear yourself listening.”

7. No One Deserves As Much Power As Michael Jackson Had by Craig Jenkins:

If you don’t believe that Jackson touched anyone inappropriately, you have to reckon with the fact that he knowingly coerced families into allowing their children into his orbit while incrementally driving their parents away; that he nudged them out of the picture as they got a little older, only remembering to call when he needed someone to testify in a court of law. You have to listen to the Robson family explain how Jackson’s machinations pried the young boy’s parents apart, how the singer convinced them to move to Los Angeles from Australia, how Robson’s father committed suicide because they left him.

You come away from the film with the sense that Jackson was, at a minimum, a troubled and deeply manipulative person, more so than we’d ever imagined.

8. In Michael Jackson Cast a Spell. ‘Leaving Neverland’ Breaks It., Wesley Morris grapples with his fandom of Jackson (just as he did with Bill Cosby last year).

The story was that Jackson never molested anybody. And we stuck to it, and it stuck to him. And the question now, of course, is what do we do? It’s the question of our #MeToo times: If we believe the accusers (and I believe Wade and James), what do we do with the art? With Jackson, what can we do? Wade became a successful choreographer who’s made a career out of teaching his version of Jackson’s hydraulic bounces, whips, and stutters to Britney Spears, ‘N Sync, Cirque du Soleil and rooms full of aspiring dancers. “Look Back at It,” the big single from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s No. 1 album from January, is built out of two Jackson hits. Michael Jackson’s music isn’t a meal. It’s more elemental than that. It’s the salt, pepper, olive oil and butter. His music is how you start. And the music made from that — that music is everywhere, too. Where would the cancellation begin?

9. Where does the cancellation begin? I have no idea about the music; I love so many of his songs (my kids are fans too, which is a whole other thing I don’t know how to deal with) but “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” now has a second sinister meaning that I will never be able to shake. I will say this though: I’ve posted a number of things about Jackson on kottke.org over the years that are unrelated to the sexual abuse allegations. Not anymore. It’s time to hear other stories.

Contemporary Pop Stars on 80s-Style Album Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2019

2080s

2080s

More retro goodness here (including The Weeknd, Skrillex, Taylor Swift, and Cardi B).

De La Soul’s Fight with Tommy Boy Over Copyright and Streaming Revenues

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 02, 2019

De La Soul.jpg

This week, music fans were rejoicing. The legendary hip-hop group De La Soul’s catalog was finally coming to music streaming services. Three Feet High and Rising on Spotify!

Alas, it was too good to be true. It turned out that De La Soul themselves would only be getting 10 percent of the streaming revenue after costs, with label Tommy Boy taking 90 percent.

View this post on Instagram

Don’t feed the Vultures, support and respect the culture #30years If you wanna support De La Soul, cop the #grinddate and #anonymousnobody albums , Coming soon: #delasoul @realpeterock and @djpremier 2019!!!

A post shared by De La Soul (@wearedelasoul) on

Now, everyone had speculated that De La Soul’s catalog wasn’t available on streaming because the label had never resolved the legal issues attendant to De La’s innovative use of sampling. The band and label had been sued by The Turtles for their use of a sample in a landmark case that forever changed hip-hop. In 2014, De La Soul gave away free digital copies of their albums to try to get their music to the fans. But now that the albums were to be made available via streaming, everything must have been sorted, right?

Wrong:

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We are being placed in the line of fire. @discogs @spotify @applemusic @tidal @googleplay @deezer @vinylmeplease @amazonmusic We understand respect and appreciate your support and business. We regret that you and fans have been place in the middle of this mess. De La Soul cannot afford negligent hurried business. We are fighting for our livelihood. Imagine trying to settle a #phantom2millionddollardebt and now possible lawsuits lurking??? There goes that 10% Thank you @tommyboyrecords #respectourlegacy #dorightbytheculture #tommyboycott #4080 #delasoul #30years

A post shared by De La Soul (@wearedelasoul) on

This sparked a boycott movement from artists/De La Soul fans like Nas, Pete Rock, and Questlove. Better to avoid Tommy Boy and the new streaming music entirely than put De La Soul in the jackpot for little reward. Tidal also announced that it wouldn’t stream the new album, in respect of the band’s wishes.

View this post on Instagram

I hate that it has come to this. Seriously. But there is no “if I have to choose a side?” #DeLaSoul means everything to me. @WeAreDeLaSoul gave me and millions of music lovers LIFE. I been hoping and wishing and praying for their back catalogue to be made available on digital media FOREVER—-but not like this @tommyboyrecords. This narrative has been going on since the blues, since jazz, since rock n roll, since disco, since soul——-I’m proud of De La for using their voice. Let’s fix this. For the greater good. Let’s be respectful and fair. 90% to the label & 10% to the artist is not fair. Normal protocol is just to accept that’s how it is nowadays. We can change that. Change starts now. As much as it pains me to not cop 10 of those issues each and share all their timeless work of genius to a generation that has no clue—-join me in standing w De La Soul in this #TommyBOYCOTT. Do y’all understand I been waiting DECADES to finally listen to their awe inspiring work in the car, on lunch break, in the gym, just chillin? I can’t do that to them. Until you do right by the soul? There is no convo.

A post shared by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on

On Thursday, Tommy Boy announced that it was delaying the release of the albums on streaming services, likely missing the window for the 30th anniversary of Three Feet High and Rising, but preserving the possibility of a more equitable agreement.

“Because Tommy Boy has not had the opportunity to sit down together with De La Soul and finalize our negotiations — something we’ve wanted to do for months — we have decided to postpone the digital release of their catalog scheduled for tomorrow,” the statement reads. “We know fans are eager to hear these amazing recordings and we are hopeful for a quick resolution.”

A rep for the group did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.

While a rep for Tommy Boy stressed to Variety that sampling was not a central issue of the disagreement and “negotiating points are still to be finalized,” the group’s catalog with the label has been plagued by legal issues over uncleared samples since shortly after the release of their first album, “3 Feet High and Rising,” some 30 years ago. That album — widely considered to be one of the best and most influential hip-hop albums ever released — and several other titles from the group never have been legally available on streaming services, as the catalog has moved from Tommy Boy to Warner Bros. and back again without the sampling issues being resolved.

On Friday, De La Soul gave a lengthy interview to Billboard where they spoke on these issues, and their hope that they might be resolved:

“It’s a victory,” Pos, of De La Soul, tells Billboard. “It’s great that people who supported and understood what we mean to the culture, whether it’s someone who’s so dear and close to us like a Q-Tip, or someone who could admire the moves we’ve made creatively, but we ain’t necessarily been in the room with each other nothing but maybe three times together, like a Jay-Z. You can have people just feel like, ‘Culturally, I support and understand where they are coming from.’” …

“He [Tommy Boy’s Tom Silverman] can legally do what he wants, but the issues that I raised [was that] in all that you’re doing with what you’re able to do, did you clear it? Did you clear those samples? When he got the catalog back, is it cleared? What he said on the phone was, ‘If anything comes up, we will deal with it the way we’ve dealt with it in the past.’ And what I know that to be is that if a lawsuit comes up, we’re gonna settle because we’re in the wrong. I say we because we do suffer from that.”

As De La Soul’s Mase told Variety, the band has never earned money from its recorded catalog because of the levies the original copyright owners have placed on the band’s samples. “Let’s be straight up: We don’t really financially benefit — there’s so many infractions around this whole thing that we’ll probably never see no money from it or any project that has these infractions.”

It’s a shame, because De La Soul created some of the most exciting—and original music of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Let’s hope that the band and label can come to an agreement, the samples can be properly cleared, and we can hear these albums on whatever service we want (with the band finally getting their fair share) soon.

Tupac Shakur’s Break-Up Letter to Madonna

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 01, 2019

Tupac's Apology to Madonna.png

Tupac Shakur and Madonna dated briefly in 1994. According to Tupac’s brother Mopreme, the relationship began when Madonna passed Tupac a note during a press day for Above the Rim. The two of them broke up sometime before Tupac was shot on November 30, 1994 as part of a robbery at the Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. Shortly after he was shot, Tupac was convicted of three counts of molestation as part of a sexual abuse case brought against him in 1993.

While in jail, Tupac wrote a letter to Madonna. This letter appears to have been sold at auction by Madonna’s former friend, art dealer Darlene Lutz, in 2018, after Madonna lost a legal fight to have it returned to her and keep it from being sold. Exactly what became of the letter is unknown.

It’s a remarkable letter, although parts of it have been blurred out by the auction house. The Independent focuses on the fact that Tupac was concerned about being seen publicly dating a white woman:

Can u understand that? For you to be seen with a black man wouldn’t in any way jeopardise your career. If anything it would make you seem that much more open & exciting. But for me at least in my previous perception, I felt due to my ‘image’ I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was. I never meant to hurt you.

Tupac was also upset by an interview that Madonna gave where she said, “I’m off to rehabilitate all the rappers and basketball players.”

“Those words cut me deep seeing how I had never known you to be with any rappers besides myself,” Tupac writes in the letter. “It was at this moment out of hurt & a natural instinct to strike back and defend my heart & ego that I said a lot of things.”

In her note on the letter, “Please Do Say Forgive Me,” Chandra Steele focuses instead on the nature and quality of Tupac’s apology.

Celebrities are separated from us by our perception of their godlike attainment of what we’re supposed to want: fame and money and sex. But when Tupac refers to their relationship, he uses words of humanity and humility. “I haven’t been the kind of friend I know I am capable of being” is how he frames the apology. It’s an empathy that some never access within themselves, no matter how many classes they take in unlocking their chakras. Later he tells Madonna, “I offer my friendship once again, this time much stronger and focused.” …

What’s more remarkable than what’s written is what isn’t. Tupac does not overstep the bounds of being an ex-lover. He does not push a selfish agenda. He has the wisdom to balance what he wants with what is warranted after leaving sans explanation. He does not burden her by asking for her forgiveness.

And then there are Tupac’s closing words:

I Don’t Know How you feel
About visiting me But if you
could find it in your Heart
I would love to speak face to face
with you. It’s funny but this experience has taught me
to Not take time 4 granted. [heart]

Freddie Mercury’s Vocal Doppelganger

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2019

Whatever your opinion of the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody,1 you gotta admit the music was pretty great. After all, Mercury and Queen were pretty great. But some of the credit also goes to Marc Martel, who sounds remarkably like Mercury and did some of the vocals for the film.

Rami Malek embodies Mercury onscreen, but as he told The New York Times last year, “No one wants to hear me sing.” During the performance sequences in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the movie sometimes employs Mercury’s actual vocals from the Queen archives, but that wasn’t always practical — some scenes demanded a stunt vocal-cord performer.

The film’s creators have conceded that the sung vocals in the movie are largely by Mercury and Martel, although they haven’t broken down the specifics of who contributed what; doing so might distract from Malek’s performance.

Here’s Martel singing We Are The Champions:

He even looks a little bit like Mercury, don’t you think? Perhaps more impressively, here’s Martel doing Bohemian Rhapsody:

Vocal coach Carl Franz was impressed.

Martel is currently touring with a Queen cover band and released an album of Queen covers last year.

Bonus: Polyphonic explains why Mercury was such an incredible singer:

(via open culture)

  1. My 2 cents is that Rami Malik deserved the hell out of that Oscar and BH was really fun to see in the midst of a sea of Queen fans on opening night. But a Best Picture nominee it was not.

The Best Movie Soundtracks Ever

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 22, 2019

Trainspotting Poster - Cast.jpg

Pitchfork, the once-insurgent, now-venerable music site known for provoking endless debates with its “Best Of” lists, has now weighed in with its list of The 50 Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time.

I like this list; there’s some good choices, and some good copy. (“The Brown Sugar soundtrack is perfect because every time a song plays in the film, it connects directly with Taye Diggs’ outfit,” writes Alphonse Pierre.) However, it is fundamentally incorrect.

All of the choices here are evidence of the Pitchfork Problem, which is that it tries to treat indie rock, hip-hop, techno, classic rock/pop, and soul/R&B music all at once, but winds up juggling them all in a way that tends to privilege first one genre, then another. Usually 90s indie rock (which was the site’s original bread-and-butter) will always win out.

Trainspotting is third on the list, which both reflects this bias and (in my opinion) is basically accurate.

Anyways, enjoy.

The Official Archive of Prince GIFs

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 15, 2019

GIPHY, in collaboration with Paisley Park and Prince’s estate, has done a truly remarkable thing. It’s created an official archive of high-quality Prince GIFs, from virtually all of his music videos. You can browse it by album and by song.

The result is a veritable gold mine for both Prince fans and meme hunters.

It’s got the early stuff:

The classic stuff:

The stuff that’s so sexy it’s a little uncomfortable:

And the self-iconographic work at (what shouldn’t have been) the end:

Please note, however, that if you want reaction GIFs from Prince interviews, live shows, and other non-music-video appearances, you still have to use the regular search function like everyone else.

Via Anil Dash (who else?)

Remembering J Dilla On His 45th Birthday

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 08, 2019

Donuts.jpg

On his 32nd birthday, February 7, 2006, J Dilla (born James Dewitt Yancey, in Detroit, MI) released an unusual instrumental album called Donuts. Three days later, he was dead, from complications of lupus. Since then, February 7 has become an especially important day for fans of Dilla and Donuts, and this year (which would have been his 45th birthday) was no different.

His local alt-weekly, the Metro Times, gathered a collection of memories from other top producers and collaborators, including Q-Tip, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and T3 from Slum Village, the underground hip-hop group to which Dilla belonged for years.

At High Snobiety, Danny Schwartz published a lengthy tribute to and analysis of Dilla’s contributions to musical history:

J Dilla operated within the rich tradition of sampling, and like many other hip-hop producers, he used the MPC to layer jazz, soul, fusion, and other styles of music on top of breakbeats. What distinguished Dilla from everyone else was his holistic approach that imbued his massive production catalogue with a dynamic range of sounds and textures. His most important innovation was that he turned off the ‘quantize’ feature of the MPC, so that his kicks and hats might arrive significantly before or after the beat. To put it another way, he loosened his beats from their rhythmic bedrock; they were not rigid, but gambled forward with a woozy lilt. One could easily argue that Dilla and Lex Luger influenced the rhythmic sensibilities of pop music more than anyone else since funk drummers like James Brown’s Clyde Stubblefield. Dilla was a perfectionist, and his rhythmic idiosyncrasies, however off-grid, were perfectly calibrated; like Gandalf, he arrived precisely when he meant to.

An MPC is a sampling machine. A little over a year ago, Vox put together a nice little video specifically about Dilla’s idiosyncratic, influential use of his MPC3000:

A 2006 feature in The Fader has memories from everyone from Madlib to Erykah Badu, but Dilla’s mother Maureen Yancey (affectionately known as “Ma Dukes”) talks specifically about Donuts, probably Dilla’s most famous album (although you’re sure to start a fight if you call it or any other of his albums his “best”):

I knew he was working on a series of beat CDs before he came to Los Angeles. Donuts was a special project that he hadn’t named yet. This was the tail end of his “Dill Withers” phase, while he was living in Clinton Township, Michigan. You see, musically he went into different phases. He’d start on a project, go back, go buy more records and then go back to working on the project again. I saw it because I was at his house every day, all day. I would go there for breakfast, go back to Detroit to check on the daycare business I was running, and then back to his house for lunch and dinner. He was on a special diet and he was a funny eater anyway. He had to take 15 different medications, we would split them up between meals, and every other day we would binge on a brownie sundae from Big Boys. That was his treat.

I didn’t know about the actual album Donuts until I came to Los Angeles to stay indefinitely. I got a glimpse of the music during one of the hospital stays, around his 31st birthday, when [friend and producer] House Shoes came out from Detroit to visit him. I would sneak in and listen to the work in progress while he was in dialysis. He got furious when he found out I was listening to his music! He didn’t want me to listen to anything until it was a finished product. He was working in the hospital. He tried to go over each beat and make sure that it was something different and make sure that there was nothing that he wanted to change. “Lightworks,” oh yes, that was something! That’s one of the special ones. It was so different. It blended classical music (way out there classical), commercial and underground at the same time.

At okayplayer, Elijah C. Watson focused on Dilla’s influence on contemporary hip-hop artists, especially the emerging subgenre of lo-fi hip-hop:

Also called “chill-hop,” “jazzy hip-hop,” or the more specific “lo-fi hip-hop radio for studying, relaxing, and gaming,” lo-fi hip-hop has become a subgenre and subculture. It’s a subgenre featuring instrumentals rooted in the melancholy melodies of jazz and boom-bap drums of golden age hip-hop.

Playlists dedicated to lo-fi hip-hop can be found on music streaming services but YouTube serves as its primary base (with a looped image of an anime scene often being featured.) Channels like Chillhop Music, ChilledCow, and Private ChillOut offer 24/7 streams of the subgenre — the subscriber count anywhere from 102,000 to 2,500,000. Through these channels, the aesthetic of lo-fi hip-hop is best experienced. Fans from across the world listen to the tracks and engage with each other in real time, all while a looped image of an animated character writing or working on a laptop is featured.

At Ambrosia For Heads, Dan Charnas discusses his research for his forthcoming academic book, DillaTime: How a Hip-Hop Producer Reinvented Rhythm and Changed the Way Musicians Play:

[J Dilla’s] story gets complicated first as he encounters some of the pains of the business and then, later, illness. The thing he most wants to do becomes harder and harder for him to do. But that laser focus, as his friends and family have painstakingly documented, remains until his final hour. Talk about triumph and pain mixed together. One of the things I’ve grappled with since the day I walked into his basement in 1999 is why people have such an overwhelming emotional connection to this person and his work. And one of the answers I’ve come to is that, in every piece of music, we can somehow sense that overwhelming will and spirit…

My co-author, Jeff Peretz, and I took about 20 students to Detroit in 2017 as a part of my Dilla course at the Clive Davis Institute… The Detroit experience was a real eye-opener for our students. Context and environments are crucial to understanding. I’ll tell you one of the things that always strikes me about the D: everyone in Detroit always seems to be building something. Dilla’s ‘Uncle Herm’ isn’t just a chef and baker—he gutted and built the donut shop with his own two hands.

Hanif Abdurraqib contributed this unforgettable anecdote

We miss you, Jay. You should still be here.

Three Chords and the Truth: Where Did Punk Music Come From?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2019

Punk music seems like one of those things that sprang, fully-formed, out of nowhere. But in this video, Trash Theory traces the roots of punk back to the birth of rock and roll, from Link Wray and The Phantom in 1958 to Louie Louie by The Kingsmen & Surfing Bird by The Trashmen to the more familiar precursors like Velvet Underground, The Stooges, and even Led Zeppelin.

Few genres have had the lasting impact of punk. 1976 is one of those seismic dividing lines in popular music. A history destroying year zero. The point after which everything changed. It was the year that The Ramones debut was released, the year that the first singles from the UK Punk scene were set loose upon a unprepared public. And while the punks wanted to remove themselves from the past, burn all that had come before, nothing happens within a vacuum. These bands didn’t appear out of nowhere with the key principles of the genre locked in place. This innovative minimalist, three-chords and the truth, turbo-powered music had to have precedent. There were other artists that lead up to this era-defining moment in music that are either forgotten, ignored or not given credit. This is how Punk became punk.

I was particularly interested to learn about Death, a Detroit band that the NY Times called “Punk Before Punk Was Punk”:

Forgotten except by the most fervent punk rock record collectors - the band’s self-released 1976 single recently traded hands for the equivalent of $800 - Death would likely have remained lost in obscurity if not for the discovery last year of a 1974 demo tape in Bobby Sr.’s attic.

Released last month by Drag City Records as “… For the Whole World to See,” Death’s newly unearthed recordings reveal a remarkable missing link between the high-energy hard rock of Detroit bands like the Stooges and MC5 from the late 1960s and early ’70s and the high-velocity assault of punk from its breakthrough years of 1976 and ‘77. Death’s songs “Politicians in My Eyes,” “Keep On Knocking” and “Freakin Out” are scorching blasts of feral ur-punk, making the brothers unwitting artistic kin to their punk-pioneer contemporaries the Ramones, in New York; Rocket From the Tombs, in Cleveland; and the Saints, in Brisbane, Australia. They also preceded Bad Brains, the most celebrated African-American punk band, by almost five years.

Jack White of the White Stripes, who was raised in Detroit, said in an e-mail message: “The first time the stereo played ‘Politicians in My Eyes,’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When I was told the history of the band and what year they recorded this music, it just didn’t make sense. Ahead of punk, and ahead of their time.”

You can hear that demo tape on Spotify and elsewhere. There isn’t a playlist to accompany this video but this proto punk Spotify playlist (Apple Music verison) contains several of the songs mentioned.

(via open culture)

(Gimme Some of That) Ol’ Atonal Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2019

Merle Hazard bills himself as “America’s foremost country singer/economist”. In this delightful performance, he sings about his daddy, who was a composer of atonal music along the same lines as Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg.

It is a genuinely catchy tune and the part where Alison Brown comes in atonally on the banjo killed me. This might be my new favorite country song?

In the past, Hazard has done songs about the Fiscal Cliff and Inflation or Deflation. You might remember his recent country tune about self-driving trucks. (via @tedgioia)

The 1959 Project

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 18, 2019

kind+of+blue.jpg

1969 is getting all the attention right now, as huge historical landmarks celebrate their 50th anniversary. But what about 1959, and all those 60th anniversaries? 1959 was particularly a landmark year for jazz, and it’s those milestones that are celebrated by an amazing blog called The 1959 Project. Helmed by Natalie Weiner, a sportswriter and history-of-jazz superfan, the premise is simple: every day, a snapshot of the world of jazz sixty years ago.

In the 2 1/2 weeks since the site’s been active, it’s already overflowing with musical goodness. I especially love this deep dive on Ahmad Jamal, an artist I didn’t know much about until my 15-year-old son, a hip-hop head, turned me on to him. There’s also plenty of Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, as well as vocalists like Muriel Roberts, Dakota Staton, Susan Hayward, and Lorez Alexandria.

It’s already one of the few sites that I read every day, and it only promises to get better as the year goes on.

A Stroke Gave This Doctor the Gift of Rhyme

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2019

The brain is a fascinating organ. If you’re lucky enough to wake up after having a stroke, there’s a chance you might have some new habits or a different personality.

Some patients become hypersexual or compulsive gamblers. Others have even woken up speaking in a fake Chinese accent. “There was a famous guy in Italy who had what they called ‘Pinocchio syndrome,’” said Dr. Alice Flaherty, a joint associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “When he told a lie he would have a seizure. He was crippled as a businessman.”

When he was in his 50s, Beverly Hills doctor Sherman Hershfield suffered a stroke, and in the aftermath he become obsessed with poetry and start speaking in rhyme. That let to an interest in rap music and he started competing at an open mic in South Central LA as Dr. Rapp. He even befriended legendary rapper KRS-One, who shared with Hershfield an interest in how rap music and science converged in the human brain.

During the Q&A, Hershfield grabbed the mic and started to tell his story.

He explained that he was getting his language back together after a stroke by listening to rap records. “One of which was one of my songs,” KRS-One recalled.

Hershfield couldn’t stop himself.

“I started to have a stroke,” he rapped. “Went broke.”

The room fell silent.

“I started to think and speak in rhyme. I can do it all the time. And I want to get to do the rap, and I won’t take any more of this crap.”

The crowd erupted.

When Hershfield rapped about his struggles, not history lessons, he inspired the audience.

“He got a standing ovation,” recalled KRS-One. He gave the doctor his telephone number and suggested they hang out.

(thx, mike)

Mongolian Heavy Metal Band Shreds with Traditional Instruments and Throat Singing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

For years, Mongolian folk metal band The Hu have been honing their distinctive brand of heavy metal, combining the Western musical form with traditional instruments and throat singing. From an NPR piece on the band:

Mongolian rock combines traditional Mongolian instruments, like a horsehead fiddle (morin khuur), Jew’s harp (tumur khuur) and Mongolian guitar (tovshuur) with the pounding bass and drums of rock.

It also involves singing in a guttural way known as throat singing while throwing heads back and forth reminiscent of the headbanging of ’80s heavy metal bands like Metallica. Those who study Mongolian music believe one reason The Hu has proved so popular with outsiders is this combining of modern and historical and Eastern and Western elements.

The group’s music videos take a bit to get going, but once the music starts, it’s pretty cool. (via open culture)

The Beastie Boys Rap “Cooky Puss” in 1983

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2019

Before they hit it big with Licensed to Ill in 1986, the Beastie Boys were a punk rock quartet experimenting with rap. In this footage from 1983, the band performs their very first hit song, Cooky Puss, at The Kitchen in NYC. They all look so impossibly young (Ad-Rock is only 17) and sound really uneven, like they’re performing in a high school talent show.

Here’s the full set they played that night; the band sounds a lot more confident playing their punk/rock repertoire (which included “Cum On Feel the Noize”):

It’s amazing that this footage exists. You can literally see the changeover in the group’s focus from the musical genre of their youth (which was on the wane a bit) to something newer (rap), weirder (fratty white-boy rap), and eventually unique and amazing (Paul’s Boutique).

Compare with a 17-year-old LL Cool J playing to an audience of ~120 people in a small-town Maine gymnasium and a 17-year-old Notorious BIG freestyling on a street corner in Bed-Stuy. (via open culture)

The Best of My Media Diet for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2019

2018 Bestnine

Just like last year, I kept track of almost everything I read, watched, listened to, and experienced in my media diet posts. In this post, I’m gonna share some of the very best of that content, stuff that stuck with me in one way or another. I marked my absolute favorites with a (*). (Above, my #bestnine Instagram images of 2018.)

Books. I made an effort to read more books this year, particularly those written by women. Hope to continue both of those trends in 2019.

After years of reading the entire Harry Potter series with my kids, we spent several months reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. I was unsure whether they would be into it, but they’d routinely ask for some extra reading time before bed.*

Charles Mann is one of the best nonfiction authors out there, a master of combining culture, history, and science into compelling stories. The Wizard and the Prophet is his latest book and I recommend you read it.*

Normally I shy away from terms like “must-read” or “important” when talking about books, but I’m making an exception for this one. The Wizard and the Prophet is an important book, and I urge you to read it. (The chapter on climate change, including its fascinating history, is alone worth the effort.)

(The theme of the book also popped up in Avengers: Infinity War.)

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. I will always be a total space nerd and this is a great history of the Apollo program.

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. Lots for me to chew on in this one, not least of which is the value of a non-traditional childhood.

I listened to the audiobook version of Kitchen Confidential read by Anthony Bourdain. This book is 18 years old but aside from some details, it felt as immediate and vital as when it came out. What a unique spirit we lost this year.

Circe by Madeline Miller. A fun and engrossing “sequel” to The Odyssey.

In response to this post about They Shall Not Grow Old by Tim Carmody, Stephan Pimpare wrote: “Howard Zinn is derided for a sometimes simplistic and sloppy history, but his singular contribution was a kind of historical Rashomon — the urgent lesson that the shape of all histories can and should be inverted.” Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs is an inversion of sorts of the traditional history of Silicon Valley.

Movies. Geography has hindered my movie choices since moving to Vermont, and I haven’t seen many of the movies on everyone else’s best of lists. But my movie-viewing has also been less adventurous this year; I’ve preferred less challenging fare after long work days.

Somehow, Black Panther came out this year? It seems like it’s always been with us. BP is the 2018 movie I’d most like to erase from my memory so I could watch it again for the first time. (Honorable mention to Avengers: Infinity War.)

Isle of Dogs. The cinematography and production design of this were just so good. I left the theater wanting to make great things.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I waited to see this one at home because I didn’t want to be caught sobbing in public.

Even in the age of Netflix, going to the theater can still be a lot of fun. I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on opening night with a bunch of Queen fans and they made the theater shake with their singing, clapping, and stomping.

Three Identical Strangers. A fascinating documentary about nature vs nurture.

TV. I watched a lot of TV this year, perhaps too much. But not a whole lot of it ended up being that substantial…I saw nothing this year as good as Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, or The Vietnam War. Maybe I should watch a little less next year?

The Americans. An excellent final season and a very strong and heartbreaking last episode.*

My Brilliant Friend. I spent the first 3-4 episodes disappointed that it wasn’t the books, but by the end, I was ready for a second season. The two lead actresses were excellent, particularly Margherita Mazzucco as Elena Greco.

The Handmaid’s Tale. Many people felt this stumbled this season, but I was not one of them.

Music. Not a musical year for me. The only thing I would single out is Kendrick Lamar’s album for Black Panther.

Podcasts. I like listening to podcasts with discrete seasons or topics these days…so not a lot of Reply All or Radiolab but more like the following…

Seeing White. Recommended by a reader, this 14-part series on race and whiteness is essential listening.*

Slow Burn. Two seasons, one on Watergate and the other on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. Both excellent.*

Caliphate. Upsetting and important. This is a look at ISIS you don’t get on cable.*

Experiences & misc. Most of my favorite stuff falls into this category this year.

An Incomplete History of Protest. This exhibition at the Whitney was up for a long while, so I got to see it a few times.

Alto’s Odyssey. Perhaps one of my all-time favorite games. Several months ago, I made it up to #2 on the global high score list. I deleted it from my phone last week because I was playing it too much.*

Kennedy Space Center. Hoping to go back for a launch sometime soon!*

Lots of things about Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia, my breakfast at Van Kahvalti Evi, and having dinner on a tiny street of tiny businesses, loosely joined.*

While I waited for my food, I noticed an order of köfte going out of the kitchen…to a diner at the restaurant across the street. When he was finished, the staff at that place bussed the dishes back across the way. Meanwhile, my meal arrived and the köfte were flavorful and tender and juicy, exactly what I wanted…no wonder the place across the street had outsourced their meatballs to this place. I’d noticed the owner, the waiter, and the cook drinking tea, so after I finished, I asked if I could get a tea. The owner nodded and started yelling to a guy at the tea place two door down. A few minutes later, a man bearing a tray with four glasses of tea arrived, dropping one at my table and the other three for the staff.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. What Chrysanthe said.

Electricity. Ok, let me explain. I live in a rural area and work from home so when it’s really windy or there’s an ice storm, the power goes out. Sometimes it’s out for an hour or two, sometimes longer. It would be quaint if I didn’t have stuff to do. When electricity isn’t the default, you come to appreciate it a lot more.

The Deutsches Technikmuseum. Science and technology museum in Berlin. Along with the Topographie Des Terrors, this was my favorite thing from my stay in Berlin.

Foggy hikes. I’d never hiked in the fog before and now I think I might prefer it to sunny days?*

My new electric toothbrush. I’ve had it for months now and I still look forward to brushing with it. My mouth and teeth feel so much cleaner.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. After spending so much time in the Wizarding World on the pages of books and on movie screens, it was a complete trip to wander around Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and the rest.*

Solo roadtrips across the United States. Probably my favorite thing of the year. Can’t wait to do this again, perhaps in the American Southwest.*

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. Watching those two boosters land back on the surface at almost the same time was mind-blowing.

Sleep. Getting at least 7 (and often 8+) hours of sleep every night has transformed my life. This is even lower-hanging self-help fruit than yoga or meditation.

Goodthreads t-shirt. I’m heading into uniform territory and having plain white t-shirts that fit me perfectly is essential.

My Recent Media Diet for Late 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. Look for 2018 media recap sometime later this week.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Under-read and under-remarked upon by the tech press…but if you read this just for the Steve Jobs bits, you’re really missing out. (A)

The Good Place. Not quite as charmed by this as everyone else, but I’d definitely listen to a weekly hour-long podcast that goes deeper into the philosophy featured in each episode. (B+)

Outlaw King. Not so bad if you’re in the mood for medieval battles. (B)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A letdown after the first film, which has gotten better every time I’ve rewatched it. Way too much exposition and not enough fun. By the end, I was bored. My kids said they liked it but without much conviction in their voices. (C+)

Bodyguard. Some shows, even my all-time favorites, took a few episodes to get into. Bodyguard hooked me after 5 minutes. (A-)

Function. A podcast on “how technology is shaping culture and communications” hosted by my pal Anil Dash. (I listened to the Should Twitter Have an Edit Button? episode.) The podcast reproduces to a remarkable degree the experience & content of dinner conversation with Anil. (B+)

Andy Warhol - From A to B and Back Again. I was personally underwhelmed by this, possibly because I’ve seen so much Warhol and read so much about him and his work? (B)

Hilma Af Klint Gugg

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Absolutely thrilling, like discovering a secret room in your house. Many thanks to Chrysanthe for the nudge. (A)

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. Finally finished reading this with the kids. Everyone loved it. (A)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s green gazpacho. It was hardly the season for it, but I was jonesing for the green gazpacho dish that my favorite restaurant used to serve. I took a guess that they used Ottolenghi’s recipe…naaaaaailed it. Delicious with some shrimp and croutons. Will use less garlic next time though. (A-)

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. There’s probably a better movie to be made of Jay’s life, but this was sufficient for my purposes. (B)

Fawlty Towers. Passing on the family tradition of watching old British comedies to my children. Some of the best television ever made, yessiree. (A)

Ralph Breaks the Internet. Perhaps this is small-minded, but I really wanted to see a little kottke.org shop in the background when Ralph and Vanellope are bopping around Internet City, like a tiny boutique next to BuzzzTube or something. (B+)

The Favourite. Delightful and fun. Loved it. (A-)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen brothers, perfectly tuned to the streaming TV format. The stories reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl’s The Tales of the Unexpected. (A-)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Great acting, particularly from Melissa McCarthy. She reminded me of a young Kathy Bates in this. (B+)

The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve seen this movie probably 10 times and it seems more and more plausible with each viewing. (A)

Circe by Madeline Miller. I am enjoying this trend of old stories told from new vantage points. (A-)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I was charmed by the first three episodes but the rest wasn’t as entertaining. People kept changing their entire personalities from episode to episode and we’re supposed to just go along with that? I don’t agree with all of it, but I loved reading Emily Nussbaum’s pan of the show for the New Yorker. (B-)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Visually dazzling and by far my favorite Spider-Man movie, but I preferred Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. This movie is much more “comics-y” than the live-action Marvel movies and despite much effort, I am just not a comics guy. (B)

Dr Mario

Dr. Mario. Used to play this a lot when I was a kid. Still fun. Would love a networked version to play against friends. (B+)

My Brilliant Friend. About halfway through and enjoying it, but it’s just not the book (which I loved). (B+)

My Brilliant Friend soundtrack. Max Richter, enough said. (A-)

Summer Games. This track off of Drake’s Scorpion has grabbed my attention lately. I love the Chariots of Fire + NES Track and Field vibe of the music. (B+)

On Being with Anand Giridharadas. An interview about his book, Winners Take All. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show with Anand Giridharadas. This episode was referenced in the On Being interview above and is slightly better because Klein pushes back on Giridharadas’s argument and makes him work a little harder. (B+)

Why Is This Happening? with Ta-Nehisi Coates. They talk politics & racism but also how to focus on what’s important to you, even if it means quitting Twitter. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Teenagers Performing With Their Idols

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 16, 2018

This afternoon, my friend Casey Newton posted a thread of YouTube videos so good that I had to login on a Sunday and blog about it. There’s a simple theme connecting these videos that I’ll let Casey explain:

This might be my favorite one:

The kids are all right. Better than, in fact.

The Official Kottke.org Music Playlist

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the mini-phenomenon of book playlists — music playlists designed to accompany new books, as a kind of disembodied soundtrack. Then last week, in the newsletter, I wondered out loud what songs would be on a Kottke.org playlist, and asked you, the readers, for help figuring that out. Jason amplified the call on Twitter, and we were off and running.

So, for the past week, I took the advice that came in, reached out to a few musically-minded Kottke readers that I trust, and trolled the “music” tag on the site to get some more ideas. (I was tempted to include some Kenny G, but ultimately passed.) And here it is:

Update: (Ben Samuels-Kalow made an Apple Music version of this playlist, if that’s your jam.)

It’s almost exactly two hours long, or about the length of a double album. (Disc 2 would start with Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”) Daft Punk, John Cale, Johnny Cash, The Strokes, Nina Simone, and The Echelon Effect all came from reader suggestions. So did Tom Misch and Carmody (!), an artist with whom I’d only had passing acquaintance, but turned out to deliver one of my favorite songs in the mix. Thanks to E.A. Gordon, Olga Nunes, David Gagne, Dan McCue, and Michael Ashbridge for their invaluable help putting this together. (Seriously, Mr. Ashbridge: Nina Simone’s cover of “Isn’t It A Pity” might be the best song I’ve ever heard.)

The rest of the contributions came out of my own head, after doing a lot of reading of the site. Readers will spot some of their favorite tags in the titles, which happen to correspond to magnificent songs: “The Moon” by The Microphones, or “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or “Photograph” by Weezer. (Somewhere my college friends are laughing at me for putting Weezer on a playlist.) “Blogging” by Wire was frankly a no-brainer based on the title alone, but I’m pleased it’s such a good, pointed song. I wanted to include one Philip Glass song and one Radiohead song, and I think I picked some good ones. And if you listen to the rest of the songs, you’ll see plenty of Kottke-esque themes and moods reflected in the lyrics. But it’s a playlist that I made, which means it has plenty of hip-hop and indie rock, some jazz and instrumental numbers, and a Dionne Warwick song.

One thing I hope is clear from this playlist: I love Kottke.org. This is a love letter. And the way Paul Westerberg sings about Alex Chilton is how I feel about Jason. He’s my guy. And I hope he finds something in this that reflects his personality and sensibilities, from his infinite capacity for wonder and his meticulous sense of taste to — and I was surprised by how much this seemed to naturally creep in — that midwestern, A Charlie Brown Christmas mood of introverted melancholy that lies behind all of that other-directed wonder. Not all of these songs are happy songs, but they are songs that find joy in the universe. And that’s deeper and richer than a giddy, booster-ish hayride. After all, as Dionne sings, loneliness remembers what happiness forgets.

I love listening to this music, and I hope you do too. A little early Christmas present from your friends here at what I will always think is the best blog in the world.

Kenny G and How Smooth Jazz Took Over the 90s

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

Jazz crossed over into pop music territory in the 70s, with jazz artists like Grover Washington Jr. and George Benson gaining airplay on the radio but losing the respect of “straight-ahead” jazz critics & peers. One reviewer wrote of a popular album by Benson:

Hearing George Benson on this album is like watching Marlon Brando in the Three Stooges movie. Such is the relationship between the artist and the “art”.

In this third installment of Earworm’s series on jazz, Estelle Caswell charts the rise of smooth jazz from its beginnings in the 70s right on through to Kenny G and the format’s eventual crash in the 2000s. There’s also a Spotify playlist of smooth jazz standards in case you’re in the mood to hear more.

Also, how perfect is it that the term “smooth jazz” was coined by a participant during a focus group convened by a market research firm? That’s so smooth jazz.

The Iconic Jazz Album Covers of Blue Note Records

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

In part 2 of Earworm’s series on jazz, Estelle Caswell talks to producer Michael Cuscuna about the iconic album covers of Blue Note Records.

Inspired by the ever present Swiss lettering style that defined 20th century graphic design (think Paul Rand), Blue Note captured the refined sophistication of jazz during the early 60s, particularly during the hard bop era, and gave it a definitive visual identity through album covers.

The covers were the work of Reid Miles, who was paid $50 per cover but later landed a gig making ads for the likes of Coca-Cola to the tune of $1 million per year. Here are a few of the covers designed by Miles for Blue Note:

Miles Blue Note

Miles Blue Note

Miles Blue Note

Miles Blue Note

Forget Book Trailers: Book Playlists are the New Hotness

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 30, 2018

Book trailers are already such a thing that there’s whole weekly columns devoted to them, a whole slew of tips and tricks; a veritable ecosystem. People want multimedia with their books. But what if the new hotness wasn’t a trailer at all? What if it was something that lots of us already do anyways, with a much lower barrier for entry?

I’m talking about book playlists, music that reflects the theme or the time and place of the book, a non-audiobook soundtrack that enhances and embellishes the written word. I love this idea!

Now, there are, as I see it, two ways to go with playlists period, and book playlists in particular. First, you can go big. Spotify and other music services can support hundreds of songs in individual playlists, and there’s no reason why you have to have just one. You can literally drown your reader/listener in sweet tunes to listen to while they read, to get psyched up while they’re waiting for their books to arrive, or to have a way to interact with the world of a book they might not even read or by.

This is the approach Questlove took when making a playlist for Michelle Obama’s blockbuster Becoming. It’s over a thousand songs split into three playlists, covering 1964 (Michelle’s birth year) to the present. Amazingly, as far as I can tell, there’s not a dud in the bunch. These selections are ridiculously good.

The other approach, which is a little more feasible for most of us, is to make a playlist about the length of an old mix CD — about 80 minutes, for those who don’t remember (and 60, 90, and 120 for those who remember back to cassette tapes). This is best exemplified by Tressie McMillan Cottom’s outstanding book playlist for her new essay collection Thick (now available for preorder). Here, too, the selection is terrific — and if I can say, a touch more personal and intelligible than Questlove’s epic collection.

If I ever write a book (and that day seems farther away every year), I’m definitely doing this. Hmm — I wonder what a Kottke.org playlist would look like? [smiles mischievously]

Update: Brett Porter points out that Thomas Pynchon created a playlist for Inherent Vice that includes songs mentioned in the book. Kyle Johnson notes that largehearted boy’s Book Notes series consists of book playlists by various authors each week inspired by their books, including “Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.”

“Let It Be” - Life Advice from The Beatles

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2018

Advice From Beatles

From illustrator Michelle Rial, a Venn diagram of some advice for when you’re sad, angry, stressed, or hurt in the form of Beatles lyrics. “Let It Be” is the perfect middle spot. Prints are available.

Hip-Hop’s Fragile Symbiosis With Pop Culture

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 16, 2018

Kool Moe Dee Purple Avatar.png

For some reason, the only YouTube channels I subscribe to are about hip-hop (with one or two dead design vlogs thrown in), and most of the hip-hop reviews and discussion I consume happens there. Likewise, almost all the podcasts I listen to are about sports, and when I’m looking for sports content, I start with podcasts. Who knows how or why these things happen? When I was a media reporter, I’d have theories about these things. These days, I chalk most stuff up to contingency.

Anyways, a favorite show of mine is Dead End Hip Hop, or DEHH, which is a kind of Around the NBA-ish take on new and old music. It’s four guys, all about my age, who have musical touchstones in common with me and each other, who argue with each other about music. It’s brash and insider-y and a little hater-ish, and I love it.

In their latest episode, the DEHH crew and a couple of younger guests answer a reader question: What will hip-hop look like in twenty years? It turns into a thoughtful (and brash and insider-y and a little hater-ish) discussion of the history of popular music, generational change, the relationship between music, technology, and the broader culture, and the dangers of becoming too popular for too long:

The general consensus boils down to three things:

  1. Hip-hop has an unusually rich, symbiotic relationship with pop culture in a way other pop music forms just can’t match, with music and culture informing each other;
  2. The musical dominance of hip-hop has generally been bad for the quality of hip-hop, and the longer this dominance continues, the more degraded the music gets;
  3. There is no reason to expect this dominance to continue indefinitely, and every reason to expect it will be exchanged for another cultural form.

Now, hip-hop has some advantages. It’s unusually capacious, almost greedy, when it comes to culture. It’s not just music, but dance, fashion, slang, and visual art. Plus, when it comes to interacting with other forms of popular culture, you can pour almost anything into it and get hip-hop back out. (For instance, hip-hop was into superheroes before it was cool. And PS: superheroes’ days at the top are numbered, too.)

But is hip-hop really that much more resilient than jazz, or rock n’ roll, each of which had their turn leading the way before turning into something else besides the most popular music in the world? Seriously: jazz is looking at hip-hop with its eyes all the way to the side, along with boxing, musical theater, and smoking cigarettes.

The harder question to answer isn’t whether something will come next, but what it will look like. In the 90s, techno and dance music were legitimate heirs/threats to hip-hop; in comparison, EDM and what’s left of indie rock seem to be pretty insular corners rather than comers.

The coolest thing to imagine is the future evolution of hip-hop, even if it loses its spot on top of the music/culture heap, into a richer and more personal form of artistic expression. I hope we haven’t seen its full flourishing. But then again, I’m 39. That’s the kind of stuff I like. And the days of hip-hop caring about what guys my age like are waning, if not over.

A Song Map of the United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

Song Map

Song Map

Design studio Dorothy has produced a poster of a map of the United States where all the place names are song titles.

Some of our favourite song choices are the ones which require you to think a little harder about connections, such as Space Oddity (David Bowie) which signposts Cape Canaveral, After the Gold Rush (Neil Young) which references Sutter’s Mill, and Homecoming (Kanye West) which is placed near the rapper’s home town of Chicago.

The map is accompanied by a Spotify playlist of most of the songs used…over 61 hours of music in total.

Jazz Deconstructed: John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

A new episode of Estelle Caswell’s Earworm series is always cause for celebration. In this one, Caswell examines the title track off John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” album and what makes it so challenging to play & rewarding to listen to.

John Coltrane, one of jazz history’s most revered saxophonists, released “Giant Steps” in 1959. It’s known across the jazz world as one of the most challenging compositions to improvise over for two reasons - it’s fast and it’s in three keys. Braxton Cook and Adam Neely give me a crash course in music theory to help me understand this notoriously difficult song, and I’m bringing you along for the ride. Even if you don’t understand a lick of music theory, you’ll likely walk away with an appreciation for this musical puzzle.

This is me actually walking away with that new appreciation.

America’s Last Chance at a Gospel Archive

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 09, 2018

Gospel Music.jpg

This is a fascinating Longread from Oxford American, on Baylor University’s Robert Darden’s efforts to create a comprehensive archive (physical and digital) of American gospel music:

In 2001, when Darden set out to write the first comprehensive history of black gospel music, from its African origins into the twenty-first century, he came across citations to many fundamental songs—early recordings by the Staple Singers; “There Is Not a Friend Like Jesus” by the Roberta Martin Singers; “Peace in the Valley” by the Southern Sons— but found that the recordings were long gone, never to be heard again. So he sought what could be salvaged. In Chicago, he climbed to the top floor of a tenement building, where he listened in awe as a woman sang lines to old freedom songs. In Memphis, he swayed and clapped in the pews of Al Green’s church. But when he finished People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music in 2004, having painstakingly laid out the history of the genre, he almost couldn’t bear that many of its core components were lost to us.

After Darden finished the book, he got in touch with some of his old contacts from Billboard, gospel scholars and collectors like Bob Marovich, Opal Nations, and Ray Funk. He wanted to determine how much of black gospel music from its golden age was lost or unavailable. They estimated seventy-five percent.

Ask them why, and the answer gets complicated. “Part of it is racism,” Darden says. “Part of it is economic.” Part of it has to do with the consolidation in the music industry (some record companies hold the copyrights to these songs, but, lacking financial incentive, don’t make them available in any form). And the last part, as he sees it, is the religious aspect of this music. Marovich put it to me this way: “When I was growing up, there was always, in our neighborhood, a couple of guys in white shirts and black ties that wanted to talk to you about Jesus. And you wanted to run the opposite direction from those guys… . Gospel is a little frightening to the unknowledgeable.”

In February of 2005, Darden wrote an op-ed in the New York Times lamenting the loss of these treasures from gospel’s golden age: “It would be more than a cultural disaster to forever lose this music,” he writes. “It would be a sin.” The apparent imbalance of that remark stuck with me. By any honest standard, we sin regularly. A cultural disaster seems like a much more grievous affair. But I also had the feeling that he was onto something—that the loss of this music was a moral failing born out of a history of oppression and neglect. He explained to me that when he wrote that, he had in mind Jim Wallis’s (at the time controversial) claim that racism was America’s original sin.

One of the songs referenced in the article as the archival project’s unofficial anthem is “Old Ship of Zion,” recorded by The Mighty Wonders. I found it on YouTube:

There’s a beauty to these recordings that belies their historical importance. John Lewis has said that “without music the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.” Some antebellum spirituals are said to have held instructions for slaves to escape. You can also find the roots of almost every major American popular music in the various strands of gospel, from country to hip-hop. It would be very American to lose these strands, but it’s the better kind of American to bring our collective resources and technology to bear to save and recirculate these records for the public good.

How VW Turned Beastie Boys-Inspired Theft of Car Parts into a Clever 80s Ad

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 08, 2018

In the music video for (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) and in promotional material surrounding the release of the band’s debut album Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys’ Mike D wore a chain with a VW emblem around his neck.

VW Beastie Boys

In the US and around the world, fans of the band started stealing VW emblems from the fronts of cars on the street and in dealer lots. In the UK, facing down some potential bad publicity, Volkswagen cleverly turned this into a marketing opportunity with this magazine ad:

VW Beastie Boys Ad

Using the iconic layout of the groundbreaking “Think Small” and “Lemon” ads and calling their logo a “designer label”, VW offered fans of Beasties a free emblem just for writing into the company and requesting one. Brilliant ad. (via @imperica)

Watching a Teen Music Star Grow Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

Vanity Fair interviewed singer/songwriter Billie Eilish last October just as her career was taking off. A year later, they repeated the interview with her, now 16 years old, using the same questions to see what had changed — 2017: 257K followers on Insta, playing to crowds of 500 people. 2018: 6.3 million Insta followers, crowds of 40,000+. The result is really affecting, particularly on questions like “Do you feel pressure?” where the difference in answers is greatest.

Eilish’s situation is extreme, but some version of this is playing out with all of America’s youth right now, dealing with how to be in the world when interacting with thousands or even hundreds of thousands or millions of other people, far beyond Dunbar’s number, is increasingly commonplace. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye and who’s playing that Cat’s in the Cradle song anyway?!

Long-Delayed Documentary About Aretha Franklin Finally Set for Release

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

In January 1972, the Southern California Community Choir, a group of Atlantic Records musicians, and Aretha Franklin gathered at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles to record music for a live album. That album, Amazing Grace, went on to be Franklin’s best selling album and is still the top-selling gospel album of all time.

Director Sydney Pollack, who would later win a Best Director Oscar for Out of Africa, filmed the two-day recording for a documentary but wound up not being able to complete the film because the picture and sound couldn’t be synced — they hadn’t used a clapperboard before takes. So the footage, which includes the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts jamming out in the back of the church, was shelved. Before he died in 2008, Pollack entrusted the footage to Alan Elliott, who was able to sync the sound and make a 87-minute film out of it.

The film was going to be released a few times over the past decade, but Franklin successfully sued to keep it from the public, saying that her likeness was being used without her permission Even though she professed to liking the film, Franklin was strident about her finances. After Franklin’s death, Elliott screened it for her family and they approved its release. According to Variety, the film will screen at the DOC NYC film festival on November 12th and then later in NYC and LA to qualify for the Oscars.

The trailer for the film is embedded above. Elliott seems to have snuck it online without anyone noticing — as of now, it’s got fewer than 800 views on YouTube.