Friday, June 25, 2021

A clarion call for women in rock

Puncture was a great music magazine in the 1990s and some of its former editors have released an impressive compilation titled Now Is the Time to Invent: Reports from the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986-2000. I highly recommend it, and one of the best pieces I've read so far from the early part of the book is Terri Sutton’s essay from 1988. 

Here are my favorite nuggets of insight from it:

  • The author used to be in love with Paul Westerberg of The Replacements, partly because he seemed so normal and attainable, but mainly because there weren’t many female idols and mentors and she saw herself in him.
  • Even at the few women-owned record labels at the time, their rosters were all male. “On part, women finding women singers annoying can be traced to culturally-induced self-hatred and insecurity.”
  • Sutton offers a litany of common-sense ways to get girl rockers more exposure, and all of the tactics (like finding the right fanzines to read and asking record store clerks which females are putting out great music) have come a very long way since this article was published. Cool to see at least some areas where the human race has evolved!


Saturday, June 5, 2021

Best Magazine Reads: Robert Pollard of GBV in The Big Takeover

Now that Magnet Magazine seems to have finally been laid to rest, the best source for finding the best music is easily The Big Takeover. It recently had a massive two-part interview with my hero Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices. Here are some nuggets from part two, which had magazine staffers asking questions they’ve always wanted to ask the rock legend.

  • Pollard has released around 2,400 songs.
  • He was mostly into arena rock in the 1970s and didn’t become “enlightened” until late in the decade when he discovered bands like Wire and Devo.
  • Among his favorite record stores in the U.S., Pollard mentions St. Louis’s “the Euclid stores” and Planet Score.
  • Basketball was the favorite for the three-sport star.
  • His experience as a teacher translated to the stage in that he has to maintain energy and keep the kids in the audience excited and attentive for long periods of time.
  • He says he's too shy to ever do a solo acoustic guitar tour. He also notes that he was once the only guitarist in the band, in the 80s, which is interesting because he’s only been the singer on stage since the 90s.
  • He writes his songs and does his art collages in the dining room of his house.
  • Pollard’s favorite cover of one of his songs is Glen Campbell’s version of “Hold On Hope,” a tune Pollard says he didn’t even like much until Campbell changed his mind about it.
  • He became quickly disenchanted with his brush with a major label (TVT), which wouldn’t let him use his own art on the covers (he hated the art on those covers), forced his vocals to always be pitch perfect, and even told him (at 40 years old) to write songs about summer, cars, and girls.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Why The Beatles still matter

The last section of essays in the fabulous Read the Beatles collection, released in 2006 and edited by June Skinner Sawyers, is all about trying to answer the question of why the band lives on as strong as ever.

There are many viewpoints expressed. Music journalist Toure offers the perspective that, having been born a year after the Beatles’ dissolving, he didn’t get to live through their soap-opera-like existence but still eventually found the story of the Beatles so crazy that it helped him dig deep into understanding the band’s brilliance.

Tom Piazza is a writer from the Southern U.S. who says the Beatles burst on the scene as a fun antidote to the grim imagery of the sparkling Kennedy being replaced by earlier-era-like LBJ and that image stuck with them even as they morphed throughout the horrific days of Vietnam. He says they also brought the old sounds of jazz and R&B and blues into their music and helped America discover itself.

Biographer of Enlightenment writers Paul Mariani views the Beatles as cartoon editions of the likes of Hobbes and Bacon and Locke, but still every bit as worthy and exceptional as all of them.

Greg Kot, who once taught me in a rock journalism course and is famed for his writing at the Chicago Tribune and his musings on the Sound Opinions podcast, makes the case that the Beatles touched on so many genres and types of music - in ways nobody else could ever replicate - that their legend and style is impossible to equal. He notes that most bands opt for replicating the likes of the Velvet Underground and new wave bands, whose music tends not to venture too far afield from one song to the next.   

Jazz writer Ashley Kahn recalls how John Lennon said nothing changed by the end of the 60s era (he was then 30 and everybody just had long hair) but what hasn’t changed is the simple idealism throughout the band’s songs that remain something humanity should hope to achieve some day.

Colin Hall is the custodian of “Mendips,” the house on Menlove Avenue in Liverpool where John lived from ages 5 to 23. He tells stories visitors have told him over the years and movingly writes about what the house is like and the meaning it brings to Beatles fans.

Musician Steve Earle compiles the 10 most important Beatles songs and defies anyone to look at the list before ever trying to compare Oasis with the Beatles. It’s probably the weakest essay in the collection and even mentioning Oasis in the same breath cheapens it considerably.

Music journalist Anthony DeCurtis talks about his personal meetings with Yoko Ono (whom he has erotic dreams about), George Harrison (who asks him how Paul McCartney is doing), and Paul (who walks around New York with the writer after 9/11 in a bit of a personal quest by the Beatle to keep the city alive during some dark days).

Poet Wyn Cooper writes about how the Beatles forced him out of living in his small world to want to go out into experiencing a larger world.

TV Snide: For May 2021

TV Show of the Month: Breaking Bad - Season 4 (Netflix): Like all seasons of this show so far, it’s flawless. Hank and Gus are cornering Walt and Jesse at every turn. The episodes in which Jesse and Gus visit the cartel in Mexico and the finale when Gus visits the old cartel boss in the nursing home are TV all-time classics. 5 out of 5 stars

True Detective - Season 1 (HBO Now): Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turn in perfect performances as Louisiana detectives hunting down the answers to a series of sadistic missing and dead person crimes. The show leaves behind a series of harrowing images and the tension and cameraderie between the two stars kept me on edge throughout. 5 out of 5 stars

Magazine Article of the Month: “Mysterious Suicide Cluster,” by D.T. Max in The New Yorker: a fascinating character study of Brandon Grossheim, who is accused in a civil case of talking numerous acquaintances at Missouri’s Truman State University into killing themselves. This is what magazine writing is supposed to be. 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Brady Bunch - Season 1 (Hulu): Not quite as great as later seasons, but this group had the formula pretty much perfect from the get go. Little kids Bobby and Cindy really shine, especially when they lose Tiger the dog and when Kitty Karry All the doll goes missing. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Outer Banks (Netflix): I wanted to watch this when it came out because I know the Outer Banks in North Carolina so well, but I think I didn’t hear great things about the show. And while it certainly isn’t much like OBX the actual place (and not filmed there and not including any OBX names or geographical landmarks), the coming-of-age story about the kids from the wrong side of the tracks battling the creepy rich kids is done really well. You can’t help but fall for the poor-kid Pogues in this young-adult mashup of Scooby Doo, Ozark, and Friday Night Lights. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: The Jesus Rolls ((Showtime): John Turturro is of course mesmerizing in this sequel to the perfect Big Lebowski, but this one misses Jeff Bridges and much of the bowling storyline in exchange for a buddy-getting-out-of-prison road adventure with Bobby Cannavale. Still funny, but dark and weird too. 3.5 out of 5 stars

PEN15 - Season 1 (Hulu): The performances by thirty-somethings Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle as goofy schoolgirl besties are brilliant and many scenes are great additions to the classic TV comedy canon, but there are slow parts to deal with as well. Worth watching for a trip back to the awkward days of early high school. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Palm Springs (Hulu): I just can’t find the appeal in Andy Samberg. It’s not like I dislike him. He’s ok. But just ok. Kind of the same with his costar Cristin Miloti. This movie is throwaway junk - about the two stars getting stuck in a time loop where they can’t escape each other and maybe don’t want to - in the form of a less-good Adam Sandler ripoff that is also not so bad to sit back and enjoy. The best part is the Hall and Oates ending. 2.5 out of 5 stars