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kottke.org posts about music

“Art Is Everything”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2021

In this wonderful short documentary by Lydia Cornett, we meet Yves Deshommes and observe him moving through his many responsibilities and interests in life, including being an NYC concierge, art dealing, raising his daughter, playing the violin, and helping his home country of Haiti.

Deshommes, who grew up in Haiti, came to New York on a student visa in 1985. He was seventeen years old, and when his visa expired he became undocumented. He lived with an older brother and took classes day and night and through the summer in order to finish high school in two years. “I became a man the moment I set foot on U.S. soil, full of responsibility,” he told me. He started playing the violin a few years later, with teachers at the Harlem School of the Arts. He was soon practicing several hours a day and working long shifts at Pizza Hut. He felt that he was too old to train as a professional, but his practice had become central to his life: “Music was the escape, music was the goal. Music was what made me achieve great things,” he said. “The violin gives me a discipline where I feel I can conquer anything.”

My Recent Media Diet, the Summer/Fall Switchover Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2021

Oh, I’ve let it go too long again. It’s been almost four months since I’ve done one of these media roundups and there’s lots to share. If you’re just joining us — welcome but WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN THO?! — I do a post like this every few months with short reviews of all the movies, books, music, TV show, podcasts, and other things I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. The letter grades are very subjective and inconsistent — sorry! Ok, here’s what I have for you today.

The Land That Never Has Been Yet. This podcast series by Scene on Radio on American democracy is essential listening. The episode on how a small group of libertarians have had an outsized influence on American life is especially interesting and maddening. (A)

The Legend of Korra. Watched this with the kids and we all enjoyed it. (B+)

The Expanse. A little uneven sometimes, but mostly compelling. I’ve got crushes on about 4 different people on this show. (B)

Galaxy Quest. The teens were skeptical about this one, but Alan Rickman’s presence won them over. I love this movie. (A)

The Truffle Hunters. The first movie I’ve seen in the theater since March 2020. The pace of the film is, uh, contemplative — I never would have lasted more than 10 minutes if I’d started watching this at home — but full of wonderful little moments. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show, interview with Agnes Callard. I don’t catch every episode of Klein’s podcast, but this interview with Agnes Callard was particularly wide-ranging and good — I want to know her opinion on anything and everything. (A-)

NBC Sports’ Premier League recaps. I don’t get to watch as much football as I’d like, but I look forward to catching up with all the action at the end of the day. A lot of the networks’ recaps are pretty shabby — incomplete, rushed, no goal replays — but the ones from NBC Sports are really good. You see each of the goals (and significant near-misses) from multiple angles and get a real sense of the flow of the match. (A-)

Nomadland. I didn’t seem to like this quite as much as everyone else did. Frances McDormand is excellent as usual. (B+)

Mare of Easttown. Kate Winslet. I mean, what else do you have to say? I raced through this. (A)

Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation. Great exhibition at the MFA of one of the golden ages of NYC. (A-)

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis. It’s a little early to write the definitive book on what went so wrong in America with the pandemic, but Lewis did about as well as can be expected. The CDC doesn’t fare well in his telling. (A-)

Alice Neel: People Come First. Great show at the Met of an outstanding portraitist. (A-)

Nixon at War. The third part of the excellent podcast series on the LBJ & Nixon presidencies. Nixon’s Watergate downfall began with the Vietnam War…when Nixon committed treason to prolong the war to win elected office. (A)

Rashomon. Hard to believe this was made in 1950. A film out of time. (A-)

Velcro ties. Unobtrusive and super handy for organizing cords — wish I’d gotten these sooner. (B+)

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché. Documentary about film director French film director Alice Guy-Blaché, who pioneered so much of what became the modern film industry, first in France and then in the United States. (B+)

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Compelling dystopian science fiction from Nobel-winner Ishiguro. An interesting companion book to The Remains of the Day. (A-)

Handshake Speakeasy. Super creative and delicious. Maybe the best new bar I’ve been to in years. (A)

The Fugitive. Great film…still holds up almost 30 years later. (A)

Speed. This doesn’t hold up quite as well as The Fugitive but is still entertaining. (B+)

Edge of Tomorrow. Underrated action/sci-fi movie. (A)

No Sudden Move. Solid crime caper movie from Soderbergh. Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro are both excellent. (B+)

Black Widow. Struck the right tone for the character. Florence Pugh was great. (B+)

Summer of Soul. Wonderful documentary about 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival. Director Questlove rightly puts the music front and center but cleverly includes lots of footage of people watching too (a la the Spielberg Face). Beyonce’s Homecoming used this to great effect as well. (A)

Loki. Loved the design and architecture of the TVA. Great use of color elsewhere as well. (B+)

Nanette. Very clever and powerful. (A)

Fleabag (season two). Perhaps the best ever season of television? (A+)

Consider the Oyster by MFK Fisher. The highest compliment I can pay this book is that it almost made me hungry for oysters even though I do not care for them. (B+)

The Green Knight. Even after reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and seeing this movie, I’m not entirely sure I know what this story is trying to convey, thematically or metaphorically, or if it’s even that entertaining. (B)

The Dark Knight Rises. Probably sacrilege, but this is my favorite of the Nolan Batmen. (A)

Bridge of Spies. Mark Rylance was superb in this and Spielberg’s (and Janusz Kamiński’s) mastery is always fun to watch. (B+)

Luca. A fun & straightforward Pixar movie without a big moral of the story. (B+)

Solar Power. Not my favorite Lorde album. (B-)

Reminiscence. I have already forgotten the plot to this. (B-)

The ocean. Got to visit the ocean three times this summer. One of my favorite things in the world. (A+)

The White Lotus. Didn’t really care for the first two episodes and then was bored and tried to watch the third — only made it halfway through. I “finished” it by reading Vulture recaps. Why do people like this show? (C-)

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. Between Emily Wilson, Madeline Miller, and now Natalie Haynes, I’ve gained a unique understanding of the Iliad and Odyssey. (B+)

TWA Hotel. A marvelous space. (A-)

Turbo. Like Cars + Ratatouille but by Dreamworks and with Snoop Dogg. (C)

Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin. A love letter to NYC, printers, Apple computers, and the late, great Tekserve. Another banger from Shopsin. (A)

Donda. Beeping out all the swear words while managing to keep the misogyny in seems apt for an artifact of contemporary American Christianity. Too long and very uneven, I hate that I really love parts of this album. (D+/A-)

Certified Lover Boy. Same ol’ same ol’ from the easy listening rapper. Nothing on here that I wanted to listen to a second time. (C-)

The Great British Baking Show. I’ve only seen bits of one season so far (#6), but I can see why so many people love this show. It’s the perfect combination of soothing but competitive and about a topic that everyone loves — baked goods. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Brushy One String

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2021

As his name suggests, Jamaican street musician Brushy One String plays a one-string guitar and, under that constraint, makes some truly beautiful music. Josh Jones wrote about Brushy for Open Culture:

When Jamaican musician Andrew Chin, better known as Brushy One String first told friends about his vision — “a dream in which he was told to play the one-string guitar” — they responded with mockery — all but one, who “insisted it was fate,” writes Playing for Change, “and that he had to make that dream come true.” So Brushy set out to do just that, playing on street corners and in the market, “in a big broad hat and sunglasses,” he says. The music came to him naturally. He is no ordinary street musician, however, and his one-string guitar is not a gimmick. Brushy is a talented singer-songwriter, with a powerful voice and a musical sensibility that transcends his bare-bones minimalism.

In addition to his NPR Tiny Desk Concert above, this video of Brushy performing Chicken in The Corn on his one-string has been viewed over 50 million times.

See also Gasper Nali and His Homemade [One-String] Bass Guitar. Would love to see a duet with these two single stringers!

The Music of Subway Train Door Chimes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2021

In The Hidden Melodies of Subways Around the World, the NY Times takes a look at an often overlooked aspect of transit design: the door closing sounds on the subway. My favorite door jingle is from the Paris Metro — I never knew where it came from:

In Paris, a simple “A” note plays as the doors shut. This is also a throwback, a sound that mimics the vibrations of a mechanical part that is no longer in use on any of the system’s trains. “But for a half century Parisians and visitors alike became used to that sound, so we decided to keep it, and recorded a synthesized version,” said Song Phanekham, a communications manager for the Paris transit system. “It’s a tribute to the heritage of the Paris Metro.”

In Tokyo, each station has its own custom jingle to signal departures. In Rio de Janeiro, the subway’s door chime pays homage to bossa nova. In Vancouver, the doors still close to a three-note sound that was recorded in the 1980s on a Yamaha DX7. (“The hallmark of any mid-80s pop song,” said Ian Fisher, manager of operations planning at British Columbia Rapid Transit Company.)

You can listen to more sounds of subway doors closing in these three videos recorded by Ted Green.

Update: Composer Minoru Mukaiya has made distinct door-closing jingles for each subway station in Tokyo.

(via waxy)

Weezer Covers Metallica’s Enter Sandman

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2021

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 16x platinum Black Album, Metallica is releasing an album on Sept 10th called The Metallica Blacklist, which contains Black Album covers featuring 53 different artists. One of those covers is Enter Sandman by Weezer, which you can watch above. Some of the other songs on the album include:

St. Vincent — Sad but True
The Hu — Through the Never
Phoebe Bridgers — Nothing Else Matters
Miley Cyrus Feat. Watt, Elton John, Yo-yo ma, Robert Trujillo, Chad Smith — Nothing Else Matters
Darius Rucker — Nothing Else Matters
Rodrigo y Gabriela — The Struggle Within

All profits from the album will be donated to charity. You can listen to the songs that have already been posted on Spotify, pre-save or pre-order the album, or check out this album trailer to hear what you’re getting into:

I’ve been listening to the Black Album a little bit recently (it came out my freshman year in college and so hits me right between the eyes) so I’m looking forward to checking this out.

PJ Harvey & Bjork Cover (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

This cover of the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by PJ Harvey and Bjork at the 1994 Brit Awards is kind of amazing — I’d never seen this before. The duet is a slow burn, but it really gets there in the end. BTW, this was the same night that Elton John and RuPaul performed Don’t Go Breaking My Heart together. (via @brianmcc)

Thom Yorke’s 2021 Remix of Creep

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2021

In collaboration with Jun Takahashi, Thom Yorke has released a “Very 2021” remix of his band’s iconic Creep. Slow and reverby, the singer’s perhaps-least-favorite Radiohead song takes on new life for this (second?) oddest of years. On first listen, I like but maybe don’t love this version, but some of the YT comments are worth reading:

Can’t believe Thom Yorke finally collaborated with Radiohead. Two of my favorite artists making a song together

Thom has went so far into artistic discovery he looped back on himself. It’s like post-post-irony, but musically

I can’t believe Thom made a doomer wave version of his own fucking song

Thom nailed this one, he sounds just like the originals singer!

You can find the song on a variety of platforms.

New Labour and the End of the Welfare State for Artists

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 08, 2021

NME cover March 14, 1998, featuring Tony Blair, headlined Ever Had The Feeling You've Been Cheated? Rock N' Roll Takes on the Government

Most US-centric attempts to imagine a future where artists and humanists’ work is better supported by the government hearkens back to the Works Progress Administration (later, the Work Projects Administration) of the late 1930s and early 1940s. There are, however, more recent models outside the US worth emulating, although their stories often don’t end so well as the WPA’s appears to.

Until the New Labour movement overhauled the British welfare system in the late 1990s, aspiring musicians were often able to exploit loopholes in the welfare system to support their own work. There’s some irony in the fact that the more progressive of the two parties winning control of government effectively ended some of the more progressive social programs that thrived under the conservative regime, although that’s not limited to the UK.

In a recent blog post, David Lance Callahan, who’s writing a book about the intersection of music and the welfare state in the UK, looked at this moment in the late 1990s, when the UK’s music scene went from underground to overground, and the welfare state fell apart:

However, despite these ideological ogres [the Tories] being in power throughout the 1980s and most of the ’90s, their attempts to massage the massive unemployment figures their policies created inadvertently led to an expansion of the opportunities available to find state support for one’s creative endeavours. The ability to get off the dole for a year as part of the Enterprise Allowance Scheme was particularly welcome - if you could get £1,000 put into your bank account for the one day the Department of Social Security demanded to see it there. Often the money was returned to a generous friend or relative the very next day, but the scheme meant that a budding or struggling musician (or manager, record label or sound engineer) could start their own business and be mostly left alone to write, record, tour and promote the results. If you could show some financial or business progress or actual success over that year, then all the better.

This was as true of bands in the ’90s as it was in the previous couple of decades. Very few could have existed without the time and space afforded by signing on and the skin-of-the-teeth security provided by cheap (or free) housing and supplementary benefit - or a non-returnable student grant for art school or uni. Things could only get better with Labour in charge, right?

It feels like on some days it’s easier to imagine how much simpler it could be with debt forgiveness, free or inexpensive higher education, and a universal basic income, and on other days all one can do is imagine how any of those programs, grossly implemented, could be used to tear the existing social safety net (sparse as it is) apart. We have good reason to fear such things! In the 1990s, they happened! It wasn’t a hundred years ago; we remember it ourselves.

Bonus: Callahan’s post includes many clippings of artists from some of your favorite 90s UK bands (Pulp, Belle and Sebastian, Primal Scream, and more) somewhat ambivalently reflecting on their time on welfare and how it enabled them to become successful musicians.

(Via Bethany Klein)

Louis Armstrong’s Final Recording

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 05, 2021

It turns out that today (July 5th) is the 50th anniversary of Louis Armstrong’s final recording, made the night before he passed away in 1971. Armstrong, born August 4th, 1901 (he often told people he was born July 4th, 1900) was a month shy of 70 years old.

Summer of Soul

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2021

Stevie Wonder. Mahalia Jackson. Nina Simone. Gladys Knight & the Pips. B.B. King. Sly and the Family Stone. Over six weeks in the summer of 1969, all of these legendary artists (and more!) performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival in NYC, drawing an estimated 300,000 people. The festival was filmed and broadcast on a local TV station, but the footage was never commercially released and so unlike that other 1969 festival, this event largely slipped from public memory.

Now, the Harlem Cultural Festival finally gets its due in the form of Summer of Soul, a forthcoming documentary directed by Questlove that uses that old footage to great effect. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this movie — it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Summer of Soul is out in theaters and on Hulu July 2.

Guest Vocalist Dave Chappelle Sings Creep at Foo Fighters’ MSG Show

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2021

Well this is peak…something: last night surprise guest Dave Chappelle led fans in a singalong of Radiohead’s Creep at the Foo Fighters’ Madison Square Garden show (which you had to be vaccinated to get in to). Not much more to say about it — you’re either going to watch it or not based on that info. Nature is healing?!

Bone Music: Forbidden Soviet Records Made From Used X-Ray Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2021

a Soviet record made from a used x-ray film

a Soviet record made from a used x-ray film

a Soviet record made from a used x-ray film

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union controlled the music recording industry and even restricted the types of music that were allowed to be played & listened to. Or they tried to anyway. Enterprising Soviet bootleggers took used x-ray films, many of them still containing images of bones and skulls, and recorded forbidden music on them, including jazz and rock & roll from the West. They called it ribs, bones, bone music, or jazz on ribs. From a 2017 article in Vice:

X-rays proved to be an suitable medium. They were cheaply and easily (albeit illegally) acquired from local hospitals that were required to throw out the flammable sheets. They took the groove relatively well, though nowhere near as well as vinyl — some X-ray discs apparently sound like listening to music through sand — and they were easy to fold into a shirt sleeve of pocket for a quick transaction. The X-rays were also stunningly beautiful.

And from an NPR article on Soviet samizdat:

Before the availability of the tape recorder and during the 1950s, when vinyl was scarce, ingenious Russians began recording banned bootlegged jazz, boogie woogie and rock ‘n’ roll on exposed X-ray film salvaged from hospital waste bins and archives.

“Usually it was the Western music they wanted to copy,” says Sergei Khrushchev. “Before the tape recorders they used the X-ray film of bones and recorded music on the bones, bone music.”

“They would cut the X-ray into a crude circle with manicure scissors and use a cigarette to burn a hole,” says author Anya von Bremzen. “You’d have Elvis on the lungs, Duke Ellington on Aunt Masha’s brain scan - forbidden Western music captured on the interiors of Soviet citizens.”

To learn more about bone music, you can check out Stephen Coates’ book X-Ray Audio, The X-Ray Audio Project (which includes digital recordings made from some of the bone recordshere’s Lullaby of Birdland by Ella Fitzgerald), and this short documentary:

Yo-Yo Ma Answers Questions About the Cello

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2021

As part of the Tech Support series, Wired had Yo-Yo Ma answer some questions about the cello and music sent in by Twitter users. What I like about this is that no critic or professional interviewer would ask these questions (they are “bad” interview questions) and yet Ma answers them all generously and thoughtfully. It reminds me a little bit of when Vogue trained an AI program to interview Billie Eilish:

What I really loved hearing Billie say was that human interviewers often ask the same questions over and over, and she appreciated that the AI questions don’t have an agenda in the same way, they’re not trying to get anything from her.

Perhaps with interesting subjects who are game, having “good” interview questions maybe isn’t that important, particularly if they are repeated queried about the same topics in every interview.

Bo Burnham Welcomes You to the Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2021

I have been hearing nothing but good things, and lots of them, about comedian Bo Burnham’s new show on Netflix called Inside. Burnham did the entire thing by himself in his house during the pandemic — writing, music, cinematography, editing, etc. In this clip from the show, Burnham performs a song called “Welcome to the Internet”. (via waxy)

1000 Musicians Play Rock Songs From Nirvana, Queen, etc.

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2021

Before I clicked play on the video embedded above of 1000 musicians playing Learn to Fly by the Foo Fighters, I assumed it was going to be kind of a mess, a muddled wall of sound. Instead, I was surprised to hear something almost magical, a rock anthem played with the fullness of a orchestra or chorus, the band and the crowd merged into a single, gorgeously layered entity. I was moved by it, almost immediately. All those drummers pounding away on their drum kits in unison! You can check out this playlist for more 1000 musician versions of rock songs, including Seven Nation Army (White Stripes), We Will Rock You (Queen), and Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana):

I also have to say that these videos hit me harder now, 15 months into a global pandemic that kept my family and I separated from all but a narrow slice of the world, than they would have before, especially now that things are starting to loosen up a bit and I am able to safely socialize with other vaccinated folks in person. Seeing thousands of people collectively engaged something so joyful is both a reminder of what we lost during the pandemic and what we stand to gain if we can manage to contain the virus worldwide. I think this is the reason why this video of a flash mob performing Ode to Joy went viral early on in the pandemic. All the feels. (another great find via openculture)

My Recent Media Diet, the Fully Vaccinated Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Every few months for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since early February, accompanied by a mini review.

How To with John Wilson. What happens near the end of the risotto episode got all the attention, but I’m all about the bag of chips saga. (B+)

Black Art: In the Absence of Light. I can listen to artists and critics talk about art all day long. Also? Everyone in this has impeccable eyewear. (A)

Spirited Away. A masterpiece. (A)

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine (BNT162b2). Possibly the best experience of the past 5 years. (A+++++)

Casino Royale. The best of the Daniel Craig Bonds IMO. (B+)

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. Another marvelously constructed world with vibrant characters by Ferrante. (A)

Wandavision. A love letter to television. Watched this with the kids and we all loved it. (A)

Looper. This is perhaps my favorite type of movie: clever sci-fi with a creative director and good actors that give a shit. (A-)

Sonic the Hedgehog. Jim Carrey is the highlight here and not much else. (C+)

The Remains of the Day. One of my favorite movies. I’ve watched this every few years since 1993 and what I get out of it changes every time. Great book too. (A+)

Judas and the Black Messiah. Fantastic performances by Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. (A)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Way too long and nearly pointless. This is what happens when you start treating the director of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole like an auteur. (B-)

A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I recommend the audiobook version of this. You can really tell the bits of the book he cares about and the stuff he phones in a little bit more. The tone of his voice when he talks about Michelle — that love is real. (B+)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. I listened to this conversation with the poet David Whyte at the beginning of March and it was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. I must have listened to his short essay on Friendship about 5 times. (A)

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. About the invention of the wireless telegraph and the beginning of our abundantly connected world. (B+)

Still Processing - The N Word. The way that Morris and, particularly, Wortham use inclusive language is fascinating. They invite people into the conversation without any loss of insight or critical capability. A bracing rebuttal to the idea that using so-called “woke” language is hamstringing discourse in America. (A-)

Matilda by Roald Dahl. Read this aloud to the kids and was told my rendition was not nearly as good as Kate Winslet’s. (B+)

You’re Wrong About (The continuing OJ saga). This has become the show’s version of Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, with entire episodes dedicated to explaining mere minutes of the trial. I am here for it. (A)

Godzilla vs. Kong. I watched this after eating an edible and I think that’s the perfect way to do it. Monsters, roar! (B)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One of my favorite Trek movies. (A-)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Less popular with me and the kids than Wandavision. Occasionally fun but also kind of a mess, especially when it comes to the “moral of the story”. (B)

The Talk Show with Craig Mod. Every single second of this 2.5-hour-long conversation between Craig Mod and John Gruber felt like it was created specifically for me. (A-)

Rough Translation - Liberté, Égalité, French Fries… And Couscous. A follow-up to a classic episode about a French McDonald’s that was commandeered by its employees. (B+)

Unstoppable. The perfect movie. I wouldn’t change a thing. (A)

Pac-Man 99. A nice update to this venerable game. The kids dismissed it as “too hectic”. (B+)

Fortnite. The perfect game for introverts — you can actually win by cleverly avoiding crowds and then dealing with a much more manageable 1-on-1 situation. But also I am old and there are too many buttons on this controller. (B+)

Croupier. Young Clive Owen, wow. (B+)

HazeOver. Recommended to me by Mike Davidson, this macOS app dims background windows to help you focus on your work. (B+)

Titanic. Had to rewatch after Evan Puschak’s video about it. Still an amazingly effective blockbuster movie. (A)

For All Mankind (Season One). So many people have recommended this to me over the past year and I finally got around to watching it. I was hooked within the first 5 minutes. (A)

The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Entertaining and stylistically interesting. (B+)

NYC. So much to say about this city and the resilience of the people who call it home. Still undefeated. (A)

Throughline — The Real Black Panthers. Great podcast on the political agenda and strategy of the Black Panther Party. A natural companion to Judas and The Black Messiah. (A)

Frick Madison. They have like 10% of the world’s Vermeers in just one room! (B+)

The Whitney. Great to be back here to see the work of Dawoud Bey and Julie Mehretu. (A)

The outdoor dining situation in NYC. The city has to keep this and the pandemic pedestrian areas reclaimed from cars. More room for people, less room for cars. (A)

Fairfax. This is the sister restaurant to my two favorite places in NYC, both of which closed permanently because of the pandemic, and the first restaurant I’ve been to since March 2020. We ate outside, I had too many cocktails, and it was perfect. (A+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Sparks Brothers

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2021

Edgar Wright has directed a documentary on a band called Sparks, which was formed by brothers Ron & Russell Mael in 1967 and the trailer (above) hails as “your favorite band’s favorite band”.

How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Edgar Wright’s debut documentary THE SPARKS BROTHERS, which features commentary from celebrity fans Flea, Jane Wiedlin, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, and more, takes audiences on a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers/bandmates Ron and Russell Mael celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band’s favorite band.

The Sparks Brothers will be in theaters on June 18.

Bart Simpson feat. Daft Punk & Giorgio Moroder

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2021

Part of what makes this so good & funny is the obvious level of care put into making it, right down to the smallest details. The audio distortion? Perfect lip syncing? The Doppler effect?! It’s just a meme, you didn’t have to go so hard! (via the xoxo slack)

Who Invented Heavy Metal?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2021

In this video, Polyphonic explores the roots of heavy metal, from the increasingly distorted guitar sounds in 50s blues to the fast-picked guitars of surf rock to the heavy rock of English groups like The Who and The Beatles to the first metal bands, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. (via open culture)

Thom Yorke, From The Basement

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2021

In 2005, Thom Yorke recorded a 15-minute set for the From The Basement series — just him, a piano, and a microphone. He sang Videotape from In Rainbows and Last Flowers & Down Is the New Up from In Rainbows Disk 2. Lovely.

See also Radiohead, From The Basement.

An Iconic Prince Guitar Solo, Reborn

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

In a career filled with iconic performances, one of the standout Prince moments came at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for George Harrison. On stage to play While My Guitar Gently Weeps were Harrison’s son Dhani, music legends Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Steve Winwood, and Prince. At about 3 minutes and 30 seconds in, Prince absolutely rips the place apart with a 3-minute guitar solo for the ages. If you’ve never seen this, make sure you watch all the way to the end.

Video of the performance has been available online for years, but producer Joel Gallen recently uploaded a recut version (embedded above) that focuses more on Prince during the solo. As with all things Prince, Anil Dash shared some context for the performance, including this amazing detail about what happened to the guitar that Prince threw into the air: “long-time guitar tech Takumi Suetsugu caught the guitar & handed it to Oprah”. AS YOU DO. Dash also shared this photo by Afshin Shahidi of Prince walking, guitar in hand and seemingly unnoticed in NYC, to rehearsals for the Hall of Fame ceremony in question.

Prince walking in NYC with his guitar in hand

Update: This is a great oral history of the ceremony written in 2016.

Tom sort of went over to him and said, “Just cut loose and don’t feel sort of inhibited to copy anything that we have, just play your thing, just have a good time.” It was a hell of a guitar solo, and a hell of a show he actually put on for the band. When he fell back into the audience, everybody in the band freaked out, like, “Oh my God, he’s falling off the stage!” And then that whole thing with the guitar going up in the air. I didn’t even see who caught it. I just saw it go up, and I was astonished that it didn’t come back down again. Everybody wonders where that guitar went, and I gotta tell you, I was on the stage, and I wonder where it went, too.

The 70s Trucker Country Music Fad

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2021

In the 60s & 70s, country music songs about truck drivers and CB radios enjoyed popularity on the airwaves and pop charts.

“Ah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck. You got a copy on me, Pigpen? C’mon.” This jumble of words is the first line of the song “Convoy,” a #1 country hit from 1976 that tells an action-packed story from the perspective of a truck driver. Songwriters Chip Davis and Bill Fries filled “Convoy” with banter and lingo based on communications they heard between trucker drivers on CB radio during the 1973 oil crisis.

The epic orchestration and colorful and quotable lyrics made “Convoy” an unlikely hit — but the song actually tapped into a long history of country music that put the spotlight on the solitary lives of long-haul truck drivers. In the video above, Estelle Caswell breaks down the golden era of trucker country with country and folk music scholars Travis Stimeling and Nate Gibson.

This style of country music is perhaps my least favorite genre of music, but the history is interesting and I’m committed to bring you every new episode of Earworm.

Quiet Storm: How Slow Jams Took Over the Radio

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2021

One of my favorite YouTube series, Estelle Caswell’s Earworm, is back for another season. In this first episode, she looks at how a beloved Black radio tradition called Quiet Storm came about and influenced the course of popular culture for decades.

Late one evening in the summer of 1976, a Howard University student named Melvin Lindsey was tapped to fill in as a host at WHUR, the university-owned Black radio station. He chose a lineup of his favorite R&B ballads to soundtrack Washington, DC, that evening. The show was an accidental success. Shortly thereafter he was hired, and his show had a name: The Quiet Storm.

Radiohead Are Uploading More Classic Live Concerts to YouTube

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2021

Back in the early days of the pandemic when people all over the world were staying inside in an attempt to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Radiohead dug into their vault and started putting classic live concerts up on YouTube in their entirety. Over the course of a few months, they shared more than a dozen concerts, including this one from 1994 and this one from 2018.

Starting last week, the band is once again uploading some more classic concerts “from a life that we all yearn to return to”, citing the science and vaccines that are getting us closer to that. The first show they uploaded (embedded above) is their 2008 show at 93 Feet East, played before just 1500 fans. That show is a bit infamous for Thom Yorke having a tough time playing Videotape (at ~47:00), which difficulty Estelle Caswell explained in her very first episode of Earworm. Anyway, they’re uploading a new show every Friday for the next few weeks — the next show will be Coachella from April 2017 — so check it out.

Simulating Church Organ Music With a Commodore 64

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2021

Linus Akesson noticed that without the benefit of the acoustical properties of massive churches, the sound that comes out of organ pipes sounds tinny, like 8-bit chiptune sounds.

Back in 2008 I had an epiphany about church organs: At least in theory, organ pipes produce very simple waveforms, much like 8-bit sound chips do-and the reason church organs don’t sound like chiptunes is primarily because of the acoustics of the church.

Thinking that process could be reversed, he remapped the keys of a Commodore 64 so he could play it like an accordion, ran it though a reverb machine, and created the sixtyforgan. The Bach piece he plays at the end of the video above (and a different Bach piece here) sounds so much like it’s being played on an organ.

See also Hear How Choral Music Sounded in the Hagia Sophia More Than 500 Years Ago (in which a filter is applied to choral music to make it sound as though it’s being sung in a cavernous church). (via @emanuelfeld)

30 Cover Songs Better Than the Originals

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2021

Hurt, Johnny Cash, NIN

Back in 2011, NME listed 30 cover songs that are better than the originals, as determined by their writers and readers. I’m not going to weigh in on the truth of their assertions, but listening to this playlist of the covers and the original songs is a pretty good way to pass the time.

(via @philipkd)

Update: My friend Matt Haughey thought this list sucked and made his own selections. Something I had forgotten: Matt was responsible for the bootleg of the Ted Leo Since U Been Gone / Maps mashup.

Also, the Coverville podcast has done more than 1350 episodes featuring all sorts of cover songs. (via @john_overholt)

Radiohead, From The Basement

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2021

From the Basement was a series of musical performances from groups like The White Stripes, Radiohead, Gnarls Barkley, PJ Harvey, and Sonic Youth recorded in the late 2000s. Above, Radiohead performs a 55-minute set of music mainly from In Rainbows (there’s also a set from King of Limbs). You can check out more performances from the series here or in their playlist of full sets. (via open culture)

Listen to Wikipedia

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2021

Wikipedia is a constantly changing entity with hundreds of edits occurring every minute and now you can experience that dynamism as ambient music: Listen to Wikipedia. Additions, subtractions, and new user signups to the site are tracked as they happen and represented as different tones — here’s a video recording from a few years ago:

Bells indicate additions and string plucks indicate subtractions. Pitch changes according to the size of the edit; the larger the edit, the deeper the note. Green circles show edits from unregistered contributors, and purple circles mark edits performed by automated bots. You may see announcements for new users as they join the site, punctuated by a string swell.

(via open culture)

Yo-Yo Ma Plays Impromptu Cello Concert at Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic After Getting Second Dose

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2021

After getting his second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic at Berkshire Community College, Yo-Yo Ma got out his cello and performed a 15-minute impromptu concert for the others folks at the clinic.

When Ma had first visited the clinic for his first shot, he did so quietly, taking in the surroundings, staff said. But brought his cello when he returned for the second shot.

Staff described how a hush fell across the clinic as Ma began to play. “It was so weird how peaceful the whole building became, just having a little bit of music in the background,” said Leslie Drager, the lead clinical manager for the vaccination site, according to the Washington Post.

Why is it weird? Music is amazing. I know you could never get such a “frivolous” spending measure through an American deliberative body these days, but how awesome would it be for the government to commission out-of-work musicians to play at vaccination clinics? Ok maybe you couldn’t have anyone sing and the brass & woodwinds would probably have to sit this one out, but you could have strings, guitars, percussion, pianos, DJs, etc. there to play some relaxing, uplifting, or energetic music, according to local custom & culture. Bring back the WPA!

Tina

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2021

Tina is an upcoming documentary film about music legend Tina Turner, featuring interviews with Angela Bassett, Oprah, Kurt Loder (who co-wrote the 1986 autobiography on which the movie is based), and Turner herself.

With a wealth of never-before-seen footage, audio tapes, personal photos, and new interviews, including with the singer herself, TINA presents an unvarnished and dynamic account of the life and career of music icon Tina Turner.

Everything changed when Tina began telling her story, a story of trauma and survival, that gave way to a rebirth as the record-breaking queen of rock ‘n’ roll. But behind closed doors, the singer struggled with the survivor narrative that meant her past was never fully behind her.

Tina will begin airing on HBO on March 27. A companion playlist of Turner’s music is available at Spotify.

Update: Cassie Da Costa reviewed Tina for Vanity Fair:

Her new interview in the film allows her to speak authoritatively on her own celebrity and personal life without having to revisit the sordid details of the abuse she experienced at the hands of Ike. And though it doesn’t shy away from the darkness held within her biography, Tina turns decidedly toward the light. The result is a film that shines, both in its passion for Turner’s talent and the depth and complexity of her character.