September 29, 2014
When Johnny met Joni

When Johnny met Joni

September 19, 2014

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Filed under: frank zappa 
September 19, 2014
From Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey: A Novel (2010)

From Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey: A Novel (2010)

September 18, 2014
Check out this mix on @8tracks: 8theist by otisblue.

Check out this mix on @8tracks: 8theist by otisblue.

September 8, 2014
The 13 Greatest Songs Ever Written

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For several years now, my music habit relies on two platforms. I subscribe to eMusic, which entitles me to download about 20 tracks a month, and I regularly create playlists on 8tracks, recombining music that’s in my iTunes already, available on 8tracks’ SoundCloud plug-in, and, especially, recently downloaded from eMusic. I often download material expressly for use in a mix.

Sometimes I get caught up in a genre like bluegrass or rap, and sometimes it’s a particular artist—recently, the Brazilian drum ensemble Olodum and, before that, Elvis Costello. But two categories of music have obsessed me for years and years—duets and what I’ll loosely call standards. I only just realized that these obsessions are one and the same.

My duet mixes all present male-female duets from across the musical spectrum—country, soul, world, etc. I love the ways that two distinct voices overlap, contrast, and weave together. Frequently the man and the woman sing the same line in different ways, e.g., Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney trading verses by Cole Porter: (Frank: “Mr. Pulitzer’s prize ought to be you.” Rosemary: “Romeo in disguise ought to be you.”)

The “standards” mixes present one song over and over again, sung by different voices. Ideally, each mix includes male and female voices, black and white singers, and versions that run the composition through a reggae, jazz, whatever filter.

My standard mixes celebrate these thirteen songs (what’s your favorite?):

  1. "Amazing Grace" (words by John Newton, music by anonymous). I’ve already said enough about this song. My favorite version: The Byrds
  2. "Friday on My Mind" (George Young and Harry Vanda; the Easybeats.) The least versatile of the “all one song” mixes, it’s the quintessence of everything a pop tune should be. My favorite: David Bowie
  3. "Lakes of Pontchartrain" (anonymous; first made famous by Planxty.) There don’t seem to be any interpretations of this song by African-American singers. Perhaps “Girl from the North Country” would have been a better choice; I could have included Howard Tate. My favorite: The Be-Good Tanyas
  4. "Wayfaring Stranger" (anonymous; first made famous by Burl Ives). Ed Sheeran’s version is a revelation.
  5. "I’ll Be Home for Christmas" (Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, based on a poem by Buck Ram, and first made famous by Bing Crosby). See this half-baked theory. Favorite: Dolly Parton
  6. "Let It Be Me" (Originally published in French in 1955 as “Je t’appartiens”. The score was written and first recorded by Gilbert Bécaud. The lyrics were penned in French by Pierre Delanoë. The English language version used lyrics by Mann Curtis. First made famous by the Everly Brothers). Nina Simone and Hannibal Means win this contest.
  7. "Bring It On Home to Me" (Sam Cooke). My favorite: The Chenille Sisters.
  8. "I Shall Be Released" (Bob Dylan). This mix is missing the Sting-led version from The Secret Policeman’s Ball—my first exposure to the song. It hasn’t aged well. Favorite: Earl Scruggs
  9. "Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye" (Cole Porter). Nina Simone’s second trophy.
  10. "The Tennessee Waltz" (Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King). Spike Jones!
  11. "Lonely Woman" (not technically a song—no lyrics—the jazz standard by Ornette Coleman) Favorite: Bill Orcutt
  12. "Fever" (Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell. First made famous by Little Willie John and Peggy Lee in 1956 and 1958, respectively). Tom Verlaine.
  13. "Wichita Lineman" (Jimmy Webb). Ray Charles.

Digression

Greatest all-time singer: Nina Simone

Runner-up: Eva Cassidy

Greatest living singer: Emmylou Harris

Runner-up: Cassandra Wilson

The Cole Porter is the only bona fide standard here. I could easily have included more of those—notably, “Summertime”—or other oft-covered tunes such as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the ubiquity of which has become some kind of joke. The genius of these thirteen, however, is indisputable. Each reveals a little something different with each interpretation as it accommodates, for example John Lennon’s growl or Colin Meloy’s purr.

It is of course obsessive to listen to the same song repeatedly, but it’s not as if I’m listening to the same track. (In high school there was a girl who made a cassette with “When Doves Cry” by Prince twelve times on each side.) What emerges from listening to all the different versions one after the other: deeper love of the song itself in all its variety, and a nuanced appreciation of each singer putting his or her stamp on a work that’s been done to death.

Both duets and standards reward the kind of careful attention—it’s even possible to achieve when you’re doing something else, like writing—that demands repetition. And obsession.

9:58pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/Z0fyjx1QMwsZH
  
Filed under: music songs standards duets 
August 31, 2014
"For the big news today is no longer the plight of the Negro. The big news… is how far he has come and how fast he is moving toward full equality with his fellow Americans."

— William Attwood, Still the Most Exciting Country, 1955. Quoted in James Guimond, American Photography and the American Dream.

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Filed under: racism Ferguson 
August 27, 2014
"

“Those characteristics of which we are most proud are also responsible for the divisiveness that now paralyzes us. We are an immigrant society based on liberal-bourgeois principles, but the Anglo-Saxons have forced upon that society a consensus which obliged the minorities to enter a violence-breeding status scramble, pitting group against group for Establishment favor. We avoided the ideological strife of nineteenth-century Europe, but the twentieth-century black man is 1789 at last.

“Community must consist of souls, not color-coded labor units. At worst, we have to pretend that it will work.”

"

— John Leonard, 1969

August 26, 2014
theparisreview:

“I felt I could ask her anything. I said, ‘Do you ever think of the meaning of what you write?’
“‘No. No.’ She raised a hand. ‘You see, I’m a pen. I’m nothing but a pen.’
“‘And do you imagine yourself in someone’s hand?’
“Tears came to her eyes. ‘Of course. Of course. It’s only then that I know I’m writing well. It’s only then that I know my writing is true. Not really true, not as fact. But true as writing. That’s what I know the Bible is true. I know it’s a translation of a translation of a translation, thousands of years old, but the writing is true, it reads true. Oh to be able to write like that! But you can’t do it. It’s not up to you. You’re picked up like a pen, and when you’re used up you’re thrown away, ruthlessly, and someone else is picked up. You can be sure of that: someone else will be picked up.’”
—David Plante, from “Jean Rhys: A Remembrance.”

theparisreview:

“I felt I could ask her anything. I said, ‘Do you ever think of the meaning of what you write?’

“‘No. No.’ She raised a hand. ‘You see, I’m a pen. I’m nothing but a pen.’

“‘And do you imagine yourself in someone’s hand?’

“Tears came to her eyes. ‘Of course. Of course. It’s only then that I know I’m writing well. It’s only then that I know my writing is true. Not really true, not as fact. But true as writing. That’s what I know the Bible is true. I know it’s a translation of a translation of a translation, thousands of years old, but the writing is true, it reads true. Oh to be able to write like that! But you can’t do it. It’s not up to you. You’re picked up like a pen, and when you’re used up you’re thrown away, ruthlessly, and someone else is picked up. You can be sure of that: someone else will be picked up.’”

David Plante, from “Jean Rhys: A Remembrance.”

(via alexanderchee)

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Filed under: Jean Rhys 
August 3, 2014
"We find ourselves here on the very path taken by Einstein of adapting our modes of perception borrowed from the sensations to the gradually deepening knowledge of the laws of nature. The hindrances met on this path originate above all in the fact that… every word in the language refers to our ordinary perceptions."

— Niels Bohr, 1928

August 3, 2014
"In a way, Jim Morrison’s life and death could be written off as simply one of the more pathetic episodes in the history of our star system, or that offensive myth we all persist in believing which holds that artists are somehow a race apart and thus entitled to piss on my wife, throw you out the window, smash up the joint, and generally do whatever they want. I’ve seen a lot of this over the years, and what’s most ironic is that it always goes under the assumption that to deny them these outbursts would somehow be curbing their creativity, when the reality, as far as I can see, is that it’s exactly such insane tolerance of another insanity that also contributes to them drying up as artists. Because how can you finally create anything real or beautiful when you have absolutely zero input from the real world, because everyone around you is catering to and sheltering you?"

Lester Bangs

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