The figure of Slim Shady haunts the moldering corridors of the Midwest. In every town you’ll meet them–tall, pale young men in hoodies on the margins of the mainstream economy. They roam the busted landscape of blue-collar America, enacting private sagas of self-destruction in search of some lost myth of unsullied masculinity.
One critic said that British punks sang anger, Americans, pain. But punk was more than emotion, more than the sense of humor the Ramones brought to the mix, more than the adrenaline rush of a live show, more than the aura of sex around everything.
It was a raw winter night in Greenwich Village in 1978. I was tending bar at Bradley’s, a now long gone, legendary saloon on University Place that featured the best piano jazz on the planet. The supremely gifted veteran, Jimmy Rowles, was at the keyboard, Sam Jones was playing bass, and all was right with the world. I loved my job because I loved the music.
Chatter about “Almost Like Praying”–the song Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and recorded to benefit hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico–reminded your editor of this performance by the brothers Palmieri and salsero Ismael Quintana…
The other week, deep summer, we went to see David Johansen in his persona as Buster Poindexter. For many years now, Johansen, former New York Dolls lead singer and front flounce, has in his cabaret act been one of the great American songbook curators (Jonathan Schwartz wishes), lurking in the brilliant corners of U.S. pop. (Without Johansen I’d never have heard Katie Lee’s late-1950s pop-Freudian homage, Songs of Couch and Consultation, lead song “Shrinker Man.”) At the end of this particular set at City Winery, he called to the stage his wife Mara Hennessey, who announced that she had a particular favorite she’d like David to sing, whereupon she started to intone the line, “that summer feeling, that summer feeling, that summer feeling,” and Johansen took off into the lyrics. It was so haunting! I knew that song! What was it again? When I got home I looked it up and of course: Jonathan Richman’s “That Summer Feeling.” Astonishing song.
Jay-Z & his mother Gloria Carter rap about her coming out in “Smile”–an exemplary track on 4:44.
Originally published in 2001.
Originally posted in 2012.
“New Day” – the song at the heart of Jay-Z’s and Kanye West’s collaborative CD Watch the Throne – is about the prospective joy (and pain) of fathering a…Brother.
Excerpted from a piece originally published in First in 1999.
When rap star Jay-Z was fourteen—angry about a stolen/borrowed piece of jewelry—he ended up shooting his older brother. He rhymes about this in “You Must Love Me” (In My Lifetime, Vol. 1)
A recent discussion on the message board brought back memories from my youth of a glamorous figure in a time when glamour had not yet assumed the tawdry implications that would later become attached to it. In 1959, Peggy Lee appeared in an engagement at a nightclub in New York City called Basin Street East, a place in which she’d achieved a triumph the year before. The poster announcing her return was displayed in front of the club and became a sensation unto itself. Versions of it made their way into newspapers, and it was pasted up on available surfaces everywhere on the island of Manhattan. In it, Peggy was wearing a white, backless, sequined gown, and the picture was taken from behind. Her bare back, revealed to the waist, was a thing of beauty to behold, and she was looking over her shoulder, her mysteriously lovely countenance caught in a look of elegant seduction. Whatever else she might have been, she was certainly an astonishing presence. Sparks seemed to fly away from her person and draw strangers into the aura they projected. This startling vision was, at the same time, contrasted by a clear statement of aloofness, distance, and unavailability. There was no question that the image being observed, although unquestionably magnificent, was an artifice that she had created. It was a measure of her talent in this regard that nobody ever asked about the real woman behind the mask. In bold letters above the photo, the caption read, “PEGGY’S BACK!”
He says he’s got the vision thing
His brain is like a TV show
A madder, badder, sadder king
If he should lose his mind how would we know
[Full Lyrics Below]
Out in the Midwest, the Default don’t provide much connection to Black Culture. The barrier’s mostly cultural I’ll admit, but I’d like to suggest the geographical plays a part as well. Bumping bass amidst corn fields and moldering barns just feels mostly lonely. To “get” hip-hop you really got to put some work in.
ooh ooh ooh weep padoo,
ooh ooh ooh wooop padoo
ooh ooh, ooh
ooh ooh ooh weep padoo
singing their cowboy song
Cowboy couldn’t believe Emmy Lou sang that song. He’d thought it was a throw-away – though he’d found it infectious beginning age six – from a cowboy compilation record with a wild west lasso cover, and lyrics remembered as the kid heard it: not “cattle call,” but “cowboy song,” and maybe he heard it right.
This essay links trips in Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born to Run, to rambles in Russell Banks’ Book of Jamaica, Michael Ventura’s Night Time, Losing Time, and Richard Meltzer’s The Night (Alone). It also takes in riffs in Meltzer’s reportage and recordings–including Springsteen’s (out of the archives though still under the radar) Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75–that soundtrack passages in Born to Run. But foundational things first: the book of Bruce comes out of Jack’s so this tour starts with…
The music video above, in which an African emigre duo who call themselves A.M.G. extol Putin, seems to soundtrack Nathan Osborne’s musings on the link between contemporary rap and Trumpery. But there are (always) countervailing trends in the hip hop nation as you’ll see if you try videos in the body of this text by Big K.R.I.T.—a rapper from the Dirty South. He makes conscious music for our mess age: “I don’t rap, I spit hymns.” K.R.I.T. stands for King Remembered In Time. (A.M.G.’s initials, OTOH, are associated with the Mercedes logo.)
Out Christmas shopping yesterday, your editor lucked into Gene Ammons’s Boss Tenor for $6. Bet you’ll get gone if you go here and listen to the first track, “Hittin’ the Jug.” And here’s the rest of the gift: Amiri Baraka’s spontaneously lovely liner notes.
I suppose Gene Ammons is what you could call a real hybrid. His playing is a perfect (albeit weird) assimilation of two widely opposed ideas of playing the tenor saxophone. Gene somehow manages to sound like he comes right out of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, the two farthest poles in the business of playing the tenor saxophone.
Originally posted at First in 2012.
The Boss is Back! The album was on the Prestige label, the first Gene Ammons made after being released in 1969 from Stateville Penitentiary following a seven-year term for heroin possession. With Junior Mance on piano and Buster Williams on bass. Bernard Purdie on drums, Candido on conga, it’s a hell of a record. Ammons’s tenor holler breaks loose over the hard funk backing, out of the horn something like a contagious fire catching on the fills and slides and the stuttering beats.
The Late Estrellita loved Leonard Cohen who was up there with the new Nobelist in her personal tower of song. Take this lyric as her grave tribute to one of her soul brothers.
Corinne Bailey Rae’s husband Jason Rae died in his sleep, his breathing suppressed by an accidental overdose of methadone. It’s difficult to listen to her singing “I’d Do it All Again” and not imagine you are hearing a woman coming to terms with the death of her lover.
Johnny Cash’s cover of “Sea of Heartbreak” fades out with the guitarist in his band (the Heartbreakers) locked on the familiar, insinuating riff from Bob Dylan’s “I Want You.” Cash’s endgame mixes up his story of lost love with fanship. It’s a rootsy, Prousty lesson in counterpoint that hints what Dylan’s song owed to Don Gibson’s 1961 hit, even as it bows to what Cash’s old friend found down by the “Sea.”