I’m back. Hopefully I can start posting semi-regularly again. To warm up I thought I’d start with something simple, fun, and self-explanatory. Here is a song that I’ve wanted to post and/or include on a mix CD several times but has just missed the cut. Hamell On Trial’s song about, one of the problems that can arise trying to date as an adult, the nature of which is obvious from the title: “I Hate Your Kid

(track is from a live CD and, includes the introduction to the following song, but I don’t think it’s too confusing.

Happy new year everybody.

A couple of years ago I was invited to participate in an annual mix-CD swap. It’s a fun thing to do. Making a mix CD means a bunch of focused listening, and it’s good to have a commitment to make time for that, and it’s nice to hear what other people want to share.

I was really happy with the first mix that I did for this group. But I felt like the one that I did last year wasn’t quite as good. It wasn’t bad, but it suffered from not having a clear theme. It ended up being less coherent as a finished mix, than the previous one.

So I’m happy to report that I have a plan for this year.

I was listening to a recent Judy Collins tribute album and two songs really impressed me, one of which was “Since You’ve Asked” sung by Joan Baez. I hadn’t listed to any recent recordings by Joan Baez and it’s a pleasure to hear her sound that good. Her voice great, and she just sings the song really well. She’s able to combine intimacy and forcefulness in a way which suggests the benefits of experience. She sounds really comfortable knowing both her voice and her own abilities as a performer.

So I’ve decided that my mix for this year will be songs by people who, at the time of the recording, have at least 20 years of experience as professional musicians.

I’m curious to see how it turns out, and looking forward to working on it. One of the interesting things about the process of working on a compilation is how it can focus ones attention on hearing similarities between songs from different artists. The sequence, by creating a connection between one song and the next, forces you to think about what elements make that a smooth or difficult transition. I’m hoping that doing an mix of strictly veteran performances will be an interesting exercise in listening and paying attention to the similarities between what skills different people learn as they accumulate experience.

I may have to work to keep the whole thing from being too cautious. Part of the fun of recordings from earlier in people’s career is that they can have so much more at stake and that can push them in interesting ways. But I’m optimistic that it will work.

I just got a couple of comments last night that look like comment spam (comments on old posts that are short and don’t have anything specific to say), except they aren’t actually spamming anything. Does anybody know what that’s about? Is this some new style of spam that I should be aware of?

IF you are one of the people who commented then welcome, I’m glad to see that people are reading the site. Hopefully you’ll stick around and keep listening.

Update: The new spam filter that I had installed was blocking legitimate comments. I just changed to another different spam filter. Hopefully that will allow people to comment. Let me know if you have problems.

I recently read this post about gender roles in country music (via) which reminded me that I’d been thinking for a while that there’s an interesting space for feminism in country music. What follows is my somewhat haphazard speculations, but let’s start with Kristan Rawls, from the linked post, setting the stage:

There’s a script for women in commercial country music … Of course there are exceptions, but the ideal country woman is often blond (and white), feisty, world-wise, and hot. She is deeply possessive of her man, and aims to squelch competitors for his affection. She gives the appearance of working-class roots even if she didn’t grow up working class, and she’s equally comfortable talking about guns (Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead”), Jesus (Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”), and heterosexual romantic relationships (Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away”). But the ideal country woman was not always thus. What has emerged as stereotype was innovative and fresh when Loretta Lynn began experimenting with these themes in the early 1960s. . . . .

I don’t listen to enough country music to know how prevalent that image is, but it isn’t surprising to hear that country music has, like many places in the culture, figured out how to takes images of forceful, powerful women and package them in a way that is safe, non-threatening, and sexy. I think, however, that there are ways in which Country music is hospitable to feminist material, which are minimized by that summary.

Let me suggest, as a very broad generalization, that pop music tends to describe emotional experiences — what does it feel like to be young and in love, or young and pissed off, or just young driving a fast car. It’s about the reactions that people have to the world. Country music can be much more specific about the actual experience in the world that prompt those emotions. As part of the genre it is more descriptive of life as it’s lived.

You may have heard the joke, what happens when you play a country song backwards?

“You get your truck back, you get your dog back, you get yer girl back and life is good.”

That may be an old joke, but, having just heard a country song about somebody losing their dog, it’s an amazing thing. It doesn’t hurt that that particular song was written by two of the best songwriters alive, but it’s really powerful to hear a song about that personal an experience that’s written so directly.

If you believe that country music is more open to stories of lived experience, and you also balieve, as MMelissa McEwan wrote (via*):

Making the personal public and political is serious business. Because women’s stories aren’t told, it’s incumbent upon female feminists to tell their own stories, to fill that void, to be unrepentant and loquacious raconteurs every chance we get, to talk about our bodies, our struggles, our triumphs, our needs, our lives in every aspect.

It would follow that there is a way in which Country music is inherently hospitable to feminist storytelling. I have no doubt that there are many other ways in which it’s inhospitable but, perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that Loretta Lynn, mentioned above, was writing country songs. There are famous feminist songs in many genres, but it’s hard to imagine The Pill as anything other than a country song.

I was thinking about all of this when I recently heard “Say Yes To Booty“, about, as she puts it, drunk sex, and the lack of appeal thereof. It’s true that she fits the description quoted above, she is white, blonde, and attractive. But I would argue that is a feminist song, and that it describes the frustrations from life experience, in a way which seems distinctive to country music. You could also compare that to the more explicitly political song, “I Spent My Last $10 (On Birth Control And Beer“.

Which, finally, brings me to the song which got me thinking about this question a year ago which is, perhaps, a harder case. When I listened to, Crazy Dangerous And Blue” I thought it was a feminist song — not in any explicit way, but in the story that it chooses to tell. I continue to believe that, but concede that it’s takes a little bit more work to make that argument. It’s a song about temptation which, arguably buries anything which would be challenging under a certain seductiveness. But I listen to that song and have a hard time thinking of any other songs which are that directly about female desire. There must be other examples, but notice how the desire is not displaced in any way. It’s not a song which builds up an image of the ideal object of desire. In this case the person who is the cause of the temptation is barely described at all. It’s just about her mix of feeling elated and excited and knowing that it’s all going to come crashing down at some point.

There should be example of non-country songs that are that direct, but I’m not thinking of them at the moment. So I’d be curious to know, what’s the closest match to a song like that, or the previous songs, in the pop genre?

Updates: I should add that I don’t disagree with the Kristin Rawls post. I think, ultimately, we’re both interested in people that are doing things outside of the mold of mainstream country. One video that she links to Single White Female lives up (down?) to all the negative stereotypes of country music, both musically and in the gender politics (though interestingly, Rawls notes that the woman who performed that, Chely Wright, has since come out, and believes that part of what that song may feel so cautious in it’s gender presentation is that she was trying to conform to a gender identity that she didn’t personally share).

Also the album version of “Queenie’s Song”, by Guy Clark, is very good, and I’ll post it later today. That was a song I wanted to share, as soon as I heard it and then I happened to realize that, from a certain perspective, “some kid got a gun for their birthday and ended up shooting my dog” sounded like it could be a cliche of a country music song.

* For the record, I had decided upon the thesis for this post before finding that post. Seeing that somebody else was making the same argument that I was, I was happy to steal a citation, but the overall thought was something that I already believed.

I apologize for the fact that the blog has been broken on and off for the past month.

It should be working completely now. Nothing was too difficult to fix, I’ve just been neglecting it. But not because I have forgotten, or lost interest. I’ve just been busy.

I have a bunch of new music that I’ve been enjoying and hopefully will get a chance to post soon.

For example, Teddy Thompson covering “Super Trooper.” It’s a great performance.

(As some context, if you aren’t familiar with Teddy Thompson, I found this while looking for his fantastic, dark, performance on the Jools Holland show).

I was just listening to Atomic Power on youtube, and was impressed at much it sounds simultaneously fresh, and historic. The notes on the video say that it was, “written the morning after the bombing of Hiroshima by North Carolina country artist and radio personality Fred Kirby.”

It feels like an immediate reaction to an event which is obviously historic at the moment that it occurred. There isn’t much sense of remove — it is the beginning of a reaction, rather than a considered response.

I’ve heard a different version before, but this one is remarkably free of irony.

I’m continuing to work my way into the book slowly and am enjoying it. I could read it more quickly but I’m enjoying that the slow pace gives me the time to enjoy his many interesting asides or digressions, rather than trying to follow a thread of argument too closely. I will post some more quotes later but I wanted to follow up one one of the quotations from the previous post.

When Simon Reynolds says that, “This is the way pop ends, not with a BANG but with a box set whose forth disc you never get around to playing” or quotes Sufjan Stevens as saying that rock is dead*, the obvious example of what this might look like is Jazz. For years older albums and reissues have been outselling new music in Jazz. People still play and listen to jazz but, as a genre, it is no longer part of the pop culture landscape, more or less. It’s possible to imagine the same thing happening to rock music.

I don’t think that will happen to rock, anytime soon. But I do think it’s reasonable to assume that, if Rock dies, something will replace it. I don’t think there are fewer people making music now than their used to be — to a first approximation at least it’s possible that some people who would have picked up a guitar twenty years ago are now spending their time blogging instead or some other waste of time. But generally, I don’t doubt that people, including young people, are doing some music, somewhere. So if Simon Reynolds no longer feels connected to a contemporary music scene that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

I don’t mean that to be too easy a response. It’s entirely possible that nothing happening today feels like a satisfactory replacement for the music that Simon Reynolds cares about, and I don’t want to dismiss that. But I will turn the mic over to George Starostin at his cranky best.

Now the problem is: when and how does a new musical revolution occur? The obvious answer is – when the previous musical genre has exhausted its possibilities. While a certain genre is new and fresh, its supporters are many and its new creations are welcome. But sooner or later, it inevitably dies down – simply because no type of art is limitless. Classical music was given two centuries to flourish, after which it withered down and, let’s admit it, died a miserable death. How many important classical composers do we know in the 20th century? One can probably count a handful, but even these won’t really be able to compete with masters of the Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin or Tchaikowsky species. And it’s no big surprise that the most accepted ‘classical’ composers of the 20th century were much more ‘experimental’ or ‘avant-garde’, rather than purely ‘classical’, like Stravinsky or Schnitke.

Jazz was given even fewer time: about half a century. Again, jazz is not completely dead today, but who has superated or even come close to Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, etc., etc.? Nobody. Jazz is exhausted as a genre, and today’s jazz is an esoteric and almost perverse affair enjoyable only by complete jazzmaniacs.

Why the hell does that happen? People will tell you about the lack of brains, the corruption of our time, the conservatism, the need to grow… rubbish. It all happens simply because the ‘pool of ideas’ has become shallow. Like I said, nothing is limitless. After all, music is not magic, at least in the process of being composed. Music consists of notes played by people on instruments. The number of notes is limited. The number of instruments is limited. The number of note combinations is huge, but, first of all, not all of these combinations are pleasant to the ear, second, even this number is limited, too. No matter how long you are able to create good music using a given pattern, you won’t be able to do it forever – even if you’re the greatest genius on Earth.

The musical processes that happen now may be interesting to some, but they’re so tiny, pudgety and midgety as compared to the global cultural revolution of 1966-75, that I’m not really interested. It is true that I do not, and cannot, observe much of the things happening in the States, or, in fact, anywhere in the world except Russia, but after all, isn’t Russia part of the world? Here, we have the definite rule of recycled, brainless pop music; the few good bands that are in existence are mostly unknown to the general record-buying public, and have no hope of becoming known someday. But are these ‘few good bands’ really good? Answer is – they’re… okay. There are some bands who I don’t mind listening to; some bands that have interesting melodies I ain’t never heard before; some bands that I’d really like to see in concert, etc. But there are no bands of which I’d say: ‘well, this is definitive modern Russian rock!’ Russian rock also passed its heyday, by the mid-Eighties it was already half-dead, and now it is struggling, but less and less and weaker and weaker….

Which brings me to my final, and decisive point. Rock music is dead. The few interesting bands that are still in circulation today can be fun and entertaining (even if 99% of them can only be found in the Underground), but overall they are mostly conservative – bringing up and fostering the old values of the same Beatles, or Yes, or Mott the Hoople, or the Police, but not coming up with ideas that would be essentially new. The widespread idea that rock is alive and well and the only problem with it is that it needs to be saved from corporate greed and greedy, murky managers that only feel the need to stuff the public with all that brainwashing crap like Alanis Morrisette or Puff Daddy or Marilyn Manson, is a myth. It is a myth created by people who simply do not want to face the obvious: there will never be another Beatles, or another Doors, or another Jethro Tull, in rock music. There will be amusing, entertaining bands that’ll go in and come out and be forgotten, but that’s not it. Rock is dead. We do need another Beatles – but these new Beatles, if ever they are bound to appear (and I do hope for it, since I’m an optimist), will not be an element of rock music. They will create another type of music – I don’t know what’s it gonna be called, nor what instruments or harmonies it is bound to exploit, but it’s gonna be something different. Something totally different from rock – rock that died, just like jazz and classical died before it. Do not try to deceive yourself and say, ‘oh no, you’re wrong, it’s all the fault of our commercialized and greedy recording industry’. Recording industry was always commercialized and greedy – yet it let out the Beatles. Do you think today’s recording industry would miss another Beatles if it saw ’em? They sure could bring even bigger bucks!

I just got my copy of Retromania by Simon Reynolds — the book which, indirectly, inspired my recent post on newness in pop music. I’m optimistic about the book. I liked his previous book Rip It Up And Start Again a great deal, and a recently read a review (in the CJR) which suggested that it’s a book which manages to be interesting and thought provoking even though it may not be completely convincing. In fact it’s a book which announces from the beginning that it’s provisional and more an attempt to wrestle with a series of thoughts than to present a linear argument.

So, in that spirit, I find myself skeptical about a couple of comments in the introduction and I thought I’d make note of that now before continuing on to see what he has to say. I may continue to take notes as I go through the book, and it will make a difference if anybody finds this interesting. So please let me know if you would like more on the book.

Read the rest of this entry »

I was thinking about the Folk Revival in the US and possible causes. It occurred to me that, if you date it as starting in the fifties, it isn’t a coincidence that it would happen as the development of the interstate highways system and the internal movement following WW II. I theorize that bringing more people into contact with unfamiliar local culture and traditions would lead to an interest in documenting or preserving those traditions.

Before I thought about it I would have said that the interest in local culture was a response to the rise of a more national culture — radio, movies, etc. I think that’s part of the story, but, upon examination, that transition started in the 20s and 30s, which leads me to think that transportation and the mixing and movement of people during and after the war were more important.

Comments? It sounds reasonable to me, but it’s just inference.

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