Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 sounded like ...

Your guide to retro 2008. The unoriginality matrix. The rip-off ledger. “It happened last year ... and a few years before that, and a bunch of times in the 10 years prior, and then probably it happened for the first time about 12 years before that.”

All these titles will work just fine. None are truly fair, and indeed there’s a good deal of this music that I like. But the first rule of snobby criticism is that if there’s enough to like then there’s enough to not like. So ...

That 2008 “best of” band ...... basically sounds like ...... circa:
Crystal CastlesKraftwerk1981
Crystal StiltsVelvet Underground1968-69 (“quiet” period)
Jay ReatardBilly Childish 1991
Beach HouseMazzy Star1993
Lykke LiBjörk? (does she have a
less talented sister?)
School of Seven BellsLush1990
TV on the RadioTV on the Radio2006
Guns N’ RosesGuns N’ Roses1991 + 25 TB of tinkering
Fleet FoxesMy Morning Jacket2003
Department of EaglesGrizzly Bear2004
The Ting TingsToni Basil with Devo1981
Vivian GirlsBeat Happening covering
My Bloody Valentine
Hercules and Love AffairPet Shop Boys1988-ish
The Hold SteadyShane MacGowan with
the E Street Band
Girl TalkSoulwax2001

Contributions? Challenges?

Coming soon: My best-of list(s) for 2008.

Happy New Year


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Rolling Stone interns, old at heart

The most interesting year-end list I’ve seen is by Rolling Stone’s interns, posted yesterday:

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
The Black Keys - Attack & Release
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Beck - Modern Guilt
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Conor Oberst
My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
Coldplay - Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
Portishead - Third

Besides the obligatory Fleet Foxes, these are suspiciously baby-boomer choices for a bunch of 20-year-olds. Does anyone under 40 really care about the Black Keys’ humorless retro blooze? And Beck? Coldplay? My Morning Jacket? Portishead? Fine albums, and MMJ will probably place high on my list. But I’m 34.

Are the interns really this fuddy duddy, or are they just brown-nosing their bosses with RS sacred cows like Beck? (Who has gotten at least four stars for everything since Mellow Gold, which of course got three and a half.) If the latter, they’ve gone too far: Even those masthead elders are hip enough to recognize TV on the Radio, Lil Wayne, Girl Talk, Blitzen Trapper and Santogold.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

’Tis the season to download the WPIX Yule Log for iPod


Alessandra Stanley’s column today about video yule logs reminded me to remind the world that the great WPIX Yule Log — the original — is available as a download for your iPod.

Which means that while you’re waiting on line at the airport or being shoved in the face by someone’s luggage on an Amtrak train, you can find comfort in 240 by 180 crackling pixels on a 6 minute 3 second loop.

And although classic WPIX remains the greatest television station ever — two words: Phil Rizzuto — I learned this year that even we New York chauvinists can reach to our friends across the country in Yule Log solidarity. It was filmed in a house in California on a hot August day in 1970.

Something to chat about over your wassail games this year.

Holiday greetings from Thelma Todd


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

‘Ultrasonic Melody’

The Defenders/The Petitioners/Ben and Sam, July 2003. Calling Tresider Burns ...


My Best Got ’08

From GQ:


Click here for the indispensable Edirol R-09, and here for that interview with the guy from the New York Times.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nice posters at MBV

MBV, a new blog tended collaboratively by the people behind the Catbirdseat, Fluxblog, Largehearted Boy and some other sites, has been running some very nice posters by the likes of Doublenaut, the Small Stakes, Toy Habit Studios and Nate Duval. The health or demise of the modern-day gig poster is a debated topic, and perhaps not debated enough. There is wonderful work being done. But you're more likely to see it online than stuck to any wall.

Here's one recent MBV selection by Joel Wheat of (?) Toy Habit:


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Press release of the day: Rosco P. Coldchain


Not a press release, actually, but a news blast. But I think Rosco P. Coldchain is my new favorite rapper name. I look forward to Ponch N CHiPz, Da F Troop and William K.A.T.T.

Philadelphia rapper Rosco P. Coldchain has been arrested in connection with the murder of a local man, sources have confirmed with A source who wished to remain unidentified told that the rapper, notable for his affiliation with hit production team The Neptunes, is being questioned in connection with the incident. While details are sketchy, the unidentified victim, a man in his teens or early 20’s, was gunned down near Cottage Street and Wakeling around 7:30 pm last night (December 18).... Police stopped two men in the area after the shooting and questioned them, one of whom turned out to be Rosco P. Coldchain, born Amin Porter. At press time, Coldchain was arrested, but police have yet to charge him with any crime, as they investigate the deadly shooting.

Unfortunately for Mr. Porter, however, he was not the only one who thought the name was cool.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reading Reed, Reed reading


Saw Lou Reed the other night at the Housing Works Bookstore Café in SoHo, reading from his new collection of lyrics, Pass Thru Fire.

Like everything Reed does, it was amazing and perplexing. When he didn’t look bored, he looked wounded; when he didn’t look wounded, he was angry, physically so — the crowd was told that flash photography was forbidden, and when some poor schmuck snapped him with flash at close range, Lou slammed his fist in rage.

He’s constantly slipping between emotional extremes, on the one hand aloof and cynical, on the other vulnerable and coiled like a snake. When he performed Berlin in Brooklyn two years ago, I couldn’t take my eyes off his face: such numbness and yet such pain. You can see it in Tony Cenicola’s wonderful portrait of him that accompanied my interview with Reed for that show. I was jealous; I hadn’t even come close to cracking that shell.

Nor will I ever, and nor will you. Because perhaps the most important part of his persona is something that I realized was the answer to one of the questions put by the Housing Works audience. (They couldn’t ask directly — the mere mortals had to write their questions down on slips of paper, to be asked later by Alan Light, whose expression upon being shot down by Reed’s gruff answers was priceless.)

The question was, “What’s your secret to being cool?” He’s a pro, so he made some pithy joke, and he got his laugh. But the real answer is: Be an asshole. Be superior, be indifferent, be too self-absorbed to care about anyone else, but then lash out. Show gratuitous anger. Show that the slightest thing that other people do can piss you off — that their very existence pisses you off. That’s how to be cool, and it’s why no one will ever be cool the way Lou Reed is cool.

But enough about that.

Pass Thru Fire. Not impressive, for several reasons. Not because of the literary content — though Reed himself seemed barely interested as he read his own words, two or three of the songs, especially “Rock Minuet,” froze me.

What’s irritating is that the book is one more bit of redundant catalog exploitation, and it’s sloppily done, too. By my count this is Reed’s fourth book of lyrics. It follows Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed, which I got for Christmas in 1991; The Raven, from 2003, which is the lyrics to POEtry, Reed’s “disjointed gray mass” of a theater piece, after Edgar Allan Poe; and the previous edition of Pass Thru Fire, from 2002. The new edition adds about 100 pages, with The Raven and a short section called “The Latest.”

And that’s just the books. This is the guy whose music has been compiled, boxed and otherwise repackaged at least 12 times in the U.S. (and still more overseas): Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed (1977), Vicious (1979), Rock and Roll Diary: 1967-1980 (1980), City Lights (1985), Walk on the Wild Side & Other Hits (1992), Between Thought and Expression: The Lou Reed Anthology (1992), The Best of Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground (1995), Different Times: Lou Reed in the ’70s (1996), The Definitive Collection (1999), NYC Man: The Collection (2003), Platinum & Gold Collection (2004), and Playlist: The Very Best of Lou Reed (2008). (Only one of these is really essential: Rock and Roll Diary, with definitive liner notes by Ellen Willis.)

Plus eight live albums: Rock n Roll Animal (1974), Lou Reed Live (1975), Live: Take No Prisoners (1978), Live in Italy (1984), Perfect Night: Live in London (1998), American Poet (2001), Animal Serenade (2004), and Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse (2008).

Who knows how much of this clutter Reed himself can be blamed for, and how much is the cheap and greedy work of anonymous label executives over the years. But there’s no excuse for the book, which was laid out as though the designer had just gotten his first copy of QuarkXPress and was dying to show off that he new how to add smudges and wavy lines to the text, and have it all line up in a circle pattern and then fall apart, etc., etc.; if you saw a copy of Ray Gun in 1993, you’ve seen it all. But it’s more than dated, and it’s beyond gimmicky. It’s idiotic, tasteless and even disrespectful — to his own work.

Here are a few pages from the book. These are not doctored and are not scanner mistakes — this is really the way it was designed. Lou, how could you. Is it just so that you can release The Ultimate Pass Thru Thought and Expression Collection, Velvet Edition in 2013?


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Press release of the day: Manowar approve French balls


As you know, “other bands play, Manowar kill[s].” But what you may not know is that your favorite Buffalo-area codpiece-metal band also excels at the art of press releases and fan-club announcements. Which makes sense, really, for four guys who once signed a record contract in their own blood.

So I was delighted but not in the least bit surprised by the bellicose, homoerotic flair of today’s statement from the Kingdom of Steel. Other bands — the kind without loincloths, for example — might simply say that they were playing the Hellfest festival in France next June, and add that tickets were going on sale, here’s the website, yadda yadda. But Manowar kills.

A French hero has risen! MANOWAR has found a promoter with the balls to bring us to the country of France! On June 21, 2009 MANOWAR will headline the Hellfest 2009 set to take place in Clisson along with special guests HolyHell. Tickets are for sale online at For more information and directions please visit

We call all French warriors to battle! The Kings Of Metal will crack the earth in Clisson!

More tour dates for 2009 will be announced shortly, including the third edition of the Magic Circle Festival. Stay tuned!

Seriously, when was the last time you heard a band say something like “We will crack the earth at the Qualcomm Center”? Unless you’re on the Manowar mailing list, my friend, you haven’t heard that in a number of years.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Found while purging huge amounts of crap from my now-slightly-less-cluttered apartment: my earliest “professional” clips, from when I began contributing to New York Press in 1998.

They had run a solicitation on their front page bulletin-board column, which said something like: “Even though we know we’re going to be flooded with hundreds of pages on ‘heaven rock,’ we are hereby looking for music writers; send in a sampling of what you can do.” I went out and reviewed an Oblivians show at Maxwell’s, and faxed it in. John Strausbaugh, still one of the best editors I’ve had, told me to keep them coming, and the first one they printed was on You Am I.

Also accomplished on last week’s much-enjoyed staycation: finally figured out how get my printer to scan. So one plus one here equals a bunch of non-Googlable 10-year-old clips scanned and uploaded for your enjoyment, Kind Reader.

Included: that You Am I review, which appropriately enough begins with talk about temp jobs; more “Live Dates” on Daniel Johnston, Michael Hurley, Brad Mehldau, Pharoah Sanders, and the reopening of Maxwell’s with Neutral Milk Hotel and Fugazi; an early review of Fantômas, accompanied by a brilliant Mike Wartella illustration; a review of an S.O.D. reunion show, with wonderful art by Roy Tompkins, which I later bought from him and has hung on my wall ever since; an angry CD review of my beloved Pastels (Illuminati, their remix album); and a Q&A with Nick Lowe.

There’s plenty more, from both New York Press and the defunct New Times L.A., which I contributed to for a couple of years (here’s a Freedy Johnston CD review); I’ll post more when I can.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Big Brother, version

Got this in an email this morning:


“As someone who has purchased Stephenie Meyer books or searched for ‘Twilight’ at”?! WTF? How much did Ms. Meyer's people pay to have Amazon comb through their search logs for this?

What’s next? “As someone who once rolled over a dirty spam link but then thought better of it...”? “As someone who has read more than 16 Star Wars-related entries on Wikipedia...”?

Museum of propaganda: ‘Thank you, Malta!’


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

John Forté freed

John Forté, a Haitian rapper from Brooklyn who wound up going to Exeter Academy and hanging out with Carly Simon and the Fugees, was pardoned yesterday by President Bush. He’d been in jail for seven years on a drug trafficking charge that he had long disputed.

Here’s the piece I wrote on him in the Boston Globe six years ago, which is trapped behind their paid-archive firewall. I wrote it as a tryout for a job I didn’t get.


BYLINE: By Ben Sisario, Globe Correspondent

At a time when rap is becoming increasingly one-dimensional, John Forté is a fascinating study in contrasts. He is the Haitian boy from the streets of Brooklyn who won a scholarship to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and ran with the Martha’s Vineyard set. He studied classical violin, but dropped out of college to pursue a career in hip-hop. He is the bleary-eyed player in dreadlocks who wears a knit sweater, silk tie, and crisp white shirt.

“Balance is a way of life,” he rapped on his debut album, 1998’s “Poly Sci.” “Right, Left / North, South / Two sides balance out/ Black, White / Either or.”

PhotobucketNow there’s a new kink in Forté’s double life. In November, he was sentenced by a federal judge in Houston to 14 years in prison for drug trafficking. Forté was arrested at Newark International Airport in New Jersey in July 2000 on charges of accepting more than $1.5 million worth of liquid cocaine, and he is currently preparing an appeal while serving out his sentence in a Texas prison.

Meanwhile, his second album, “I, John” (Transparent), recorded while he awaited trial last year, will be released Tuesday. Far from rap’s usual jailhouse boasts, it is one of the most complex, introspective hip-hop albums to come out in years, with an emotional depth and musical vision that rivals the work of Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill, his mentors in the Fugees.

“While I awaited trial, emotions ran through me like never before, and they weren’t all bad,” Forté says from prison, where he can communicate with journalists only by written interview. “There was a realization that took place, and for perhaps the first time in my life I was able to see what was important. Love was at the top of a very short list.”

Forté has his defenders, among them Carly Simon, who has forged a special bond with the 27-year-old rapper. Forté met her through her son Ben Taylor, when he visited the family on Martha’s Vineyard one summer a few years back; he spent six weeks there.

“We have a really close relationship,” says the woman Forté calls “Mama C.” “It’s like this happened to my child,” Simon says, adding that Forté has sent her some 60 long letters from prison.

When Forté was arrested, his one phone call was to Simon, who rushed to pay his $250,000 bail.

He is not the first hip-hop artist to go to jail, of course, nor is he the first to record an album while awaiting incarceration. Two members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Ghostface Killah, for example, have had repeated run-ins with the law, complicating the release of solo and group albums.

Forté is no thug. He was raised by his mother in Brownsville, a tough section of Brooklyn, but won a full scholarship to Exeter. He enrolled in the fall of 1989 and soon was rapping about Dostoyevsky. He dropped out of New York University after just a semester to devote himself to hip-hop.

After meeting a girl named Lauryn Hill, he joined the Fugees’ extended family, the Refugee Camp, and worked on the group’s 1996 smash, “The Score,” as a producer, writer and performer.

Wyclef Jean of the Fugees took Forté under his wing, giving him guest spots on his solo album “The Carnival” and coproducing Forté’s own solo album.

Like the Fugees albums, Forté’s “Poly Sci” has melodramatic, vaguely spiritual lyrics and slow, luxurious tunes that borrow from reggae and drippy R&B. It was not an original approach, and in a marketplace flooded with Fugees copycats, it sold less than 100,000 copies, a respectable number for an underground rapper, but a failure compared to the 6 million sold by “The Score.” His label, Columbia, dropped him, and he began DJ’ing in Manhattan, trying to regroup and redevelop his skills.

According to the prosecution’s case, this is when Forté made his connection to the underworld. He is accused of procuring young female couriers to pick up packages of drugs coming in from Mexico and Central America as part of an elaborate smuggling ring.

When Forté was arrested, prosecutors charge, two women handed him packages containing about 14 kilograms of liquid cocaine. The women had been caught before they boarded their plane in Houston, and the meeting with Forté was a setup.

In taped phone calls with the women before they left, prosecutors said, Forté gave them instructions on how to care for the cargo, telling them, “put the ice cream on ice.”

But throughout the ordeal Forté has maintained his innocence. “I dispute the charges wholeheartedly,” he says.

Forté says that he knew nothing of cocaine and that he thought he was only receiving cash to deliver to a third party who Forté’s lawyers say was a known and trusted business associate.

During his trial Forté was offered a generous plea bargain deal by prosecutors but rejected it because he was certain he could win in trial. Forté was charged with several crimes but in the end the jury rejected a conspiracy charge and only convicted him of the relatively minor charge of possession with intent to distribute. His sentence was so great only because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Simon insists that Forté is innocent. “John has been victimized,” she says, “It’s a Sacco and Vanzetti case. It’s being tied to other things, not for the crime they think he’s committed.” She said Forté’s case has alerted her to the injustices of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, and she says his fame can help raise awareness for the cause. “It’s good that John’s case might be one to be focused on,” she says. “It might make people aware of what’s going on.”

The experience has had a humbling effect on Forté and has inspired him to do his best work so far. “I, John” has a depth and maturity not found on “Poly Sci.” It begins with “What a Difference,” which samples Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes” and finds Forté rejecting the macho hip-hop code for a simpler life.

“I’ve evolved to better things,” he sings, rather than raps. “I want homes instead of rings.” Elsewhere he says, “I’m disgusted with rap.”

Indeed, Forté raps very little on “I, John.” The album is mostly sung, in a cool, thin tenor that makes its first appearance here. He says it was Simon who encouraged him to sing. “She pushed me to take things up a notch, and, oh, yeah, sing them myself,” he says.

Simon seems to have learned something from the collaboration, too. She contributes an angry rap to the song “Been There Done That,” saying, “Do not underestimate me / People have before and ended up looking so silly!”

The album is structured as a series of reflections on Forté’s life and on what he calls his “trouble,” imagining the ramifications of one fateful day. He imagines loved ones left behind, lost pleasures and happy times in the past. Some rage comes through in “Been There” and “Trouble Again,” in which he complains about media coverage: “Heard the words in the paper / Now what will they think up?” He makes peace with a parent he has never known on “Dearest Father” and prays for freedom on “Reunion.”

There are few overt references to his incarceration; instead, he uses the situation as an opportunity to reflect on his life. His producer, Joel Kipnis (who is known as J.K.), sees the album as an exploration of universal themes. “It holds true to everybody’s life,” Kipnis says. “There’s one moment, one day, one minute, when everything changes. As a storyteller, John takes the event and describes the different roads it leads him to, directly or indirectly.”

Forté is rightly proud of the album, but is careful to hang on to his newfound humility. “Would this record be as strong, had I not gone through this? I have no idea,” he says. “The only thing I know is that everything happens for a reason.”

Press release of the day: Velvet Revolver, label ‘end partnership’

Dubious euphemisms dept.:

I’ve long been a fan of the press releases from Velvet Revolver, and in particular WEILAND, their former lead singer. The KGB did not document events as well, nor as misleadingly. Here’s the latest, saying that they got dropped by their label without saying that they got dropped by their label:


Finding the new lead singer for VELVET REVOLVER is a formidable task... So in June 2008, SLASH, DUFF MCKAGAN, MATT SORUM and DAVE KUSHNER approached RCA Records and asked to be released from their recording contract, as they felt they needed to have complete freedom to go through whatever process it would take to accomplish the goal…freedom from any timelines, pressures, influences or interests other than finding THE best guy. RCA Records honored the band’s request.

Carl Stubner, the band’s manager, says: “...The band is thankful that RCA understood the task at hand and has allowed the band to continue on their own.” Stubner added: “This band is comprised of some of the greatest rock musicians of the past three decades. They have built a brand with a solid foundation on a global level. And their sole focus has been, and continues to be, finding the singer/songwriter who will stand alongside them.”

Because the last thing you want when recruiting a new singer is a legitimate record contract to show that the band has a future.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Press release of the day: John Lennon = Faust, Robert Johnson, ‘others’


I’m not enough of a Beatles freak to know or care if there’s much of a “turn me on, dead man”-type precedent for this, but thank God somebody has decided to be the Ralph Macchio here and tackle head-on the urgent question of whether John Lennon sold his soul to the devil “in exchange for his worldly musical success with the Beatles and beyond.” And beyond!

The basis for this conclusion? On Dec. 27, 1960, “when Beatlemania first struck audiences,” the Beatles played a concert that “evoked a response noticeably different from anything in their past,” and thus they “inexplicably and immediately” became superfamous. So John must have struck a deal with Old Scratch. QED, right?

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 18, 2008 - Did John Lennon sell his soul to the devil in exchange for his worldly musical success with The Beatles and beyond? That’s the theory set forth by Joseph Niezgoda in his soon-to-be released book The Lennon Prophecy, A New Examination of the Death Clues of the Beatles.

The Lennon Prophecy offers a new interpretation of the hidden messages and symbols that have ornamented Beatles mythology for years and offers the view that Lennon joined historical figures such as Mississippi “Crossroads” blues guitarist Robert Johnson, Dr. Johann Faust, Pope Sylvester II among others who entered into a pact with the devil to exchange their souls for earthly successes....

Niezgoda alleges that a 20-year pact began in December of 1960, shortly before a night when Beatlemania first struck audiences on December 27, 1960, when the Fab Four played at Town Hall Ballroom in Litherland, England. During that performance, as Niezgoda writes, “The Beatles evoked a response noticeably different from anything in their past.” From there, The Beatles inexplicably and immediately shot to global fame at a level never seen before or since. The 20-year pact came to its tragic conclusion on December 8, 1980, when Mark David Chapman, who testified he was possessed by demons, fulfilled the end of the contract by murdering Lennon outside of his apartment at The Dakota in New York City.

I appreciate the reference to Sylvester II. You can’t count on good medieval papal scholarship anymore.

Museum of propaganda: Urgent particulars


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Museum of propaganda: Conservation


Ministry of Fuel and Power (U.K.), late 1944.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jim James, music critic

Rolling Stone has put up a bunch of ballots from their not very persuasive recent list of the “greatest singers of all time.” They're fun to look through. Hetfield’s feels right, with Ronnie James Dio as his fave and high marks for Lemmy Kilmeister and Sean Harris of Diamondhead; Beatles-worshipper Ozzy Osborne puts John at No. 1 and Paul at No. 2.

But the best I see is from Jim James of My Morning Jacket, who seems to have actually taken seriously the task of ranking history’s greatest singers. He puts “Marvin Pentz Gaye Jr.” in the top slot and includes Jimmie Rodgers, Louis Armstrong, Bon Scott, Wayne Coyne, Nina Simone and Gram Parsons. That’s a fine, honest, learned list, and it’s what I wish the final product was more like.

Interesting thing: a bunch of people on these ballots chose Bon Scott, who didn't make it to the Top 100. Wonder where he placed?


Women in wartime 8: Second-line citizens


Friday, November 14, 2008

A bunch of new Watchmen videos

The big news is the new trailer. It just went up on Yahoo, which declares it “totally awesome.” Jake and Jesse have already pooh-poohed it, but I like it better than the previous one — more Cold War tension. 

I also missed the last couple of entries in the ongoing video journal on the Watchmen movie blog. No. 8, directly below, is about Silk Spectre, and No. 7 features Dr. Manhattan. Aside from my other nits, the thing that worries me most here is all the Matrix-style slow-motion fight shots. So 2001.

Museum of propaganda: Protect the nation’s honor


Thursday, November 13, 2008

The woman they almost lynched


40 singers inexplicably omitted from Rolling Stone’s 100 ‘greatest of all time’

Rolling Stone has just published their list of the “100 greatest singers of all time,” but like most of the magazine’s rankings, it basically covers 1955 to 1975, with some token others. You have to go to No. 30 (Prince) before you hit a singer whose career began after the Nixon administration, and No. 45 (Kurt Cobain) No. 39 (Jeff Buckley) for somebody post-Reagan. Rolling Stone gives every birthdate, and if I had time I would calculate the average age. Anyone?

But the omissions truly surprised me. Even restricting this “all time” list to the 20th century (surely Farinelli, the great castrato celebrity of the 1700s — he once blew Handel off — was better than No. 99, right?), and to non-classical singers (Maria Callas vs. No. 69), the choices are bizarre. Here, off the top of my head, are 40 highly notable omissions; these are always judgment calls, of course, but I’d argue that at least the top 10 are absolute essentials.

  1. Frank Sinatra
  2. Nat King Cole
  3. Billie Holiday
  4. Ella Fitzgerald
  5. Bing Crosby
  6. Mahalia Jackson
  7. Leadbelly
  8. Bessie Smith
  9. Miriam Makeba
  10. João Gilberto
  11. Dionne Warwick
  12. Sandy Denny
  13. Natalie Merchant
  14. Linda Thompson
  15. Blind Willie Johnson
  16. Marion Williams
  17. Nancy Wilson (jazz)
  18. Harry Belafonte
  19. Jimmie Rogers
  20. Carly Simon
  21. Joan Baez
  22. Barry Gibb
  23. Caetano Veloso
  24. Cab Calloway
  25. Blind Lemon Jefferson
  26. Ron Isley
  27. Salif Keita
  28. Sade
  29. Louis Armstrong
  30. Ian Curtis
  31. Sarah Vaughan
  32. Asha Bhosle
  33. Louis Jordan
  34. Serge Gainsbourg
  35. Amália Rodrigues
  36. Robert Johnson
  37. Woody Guthrie
  38. Youssou N’Dour
  39. Bobby McFerrin
  40. Baaba Maal

And that’s without Latin music (Hector Lavoe? Vicente Fernandez?) or almost anything Asian, which are not my specialties. Just for good measure, here are 10 more that I wouldn’t call essentials, but one could argue have major significance:

  1. Marianne Faithfull
  2. Carmen Miranda
  3. Gilberto Gil
  4. Beth Orton
  5. Pete Seeger
  6. Sting
  7. Daryl Hall
  8. Arthur Lee
  9. Barry White
  10. Madonna

Sad milestone: Jimi Hendrix Experience, RIP

I’m saddened and honored that I’ve now buried two-thirds of the Jimi Hendrix Experience — who, with the passing of drummer Mitch Mitchell on Wednesday, are now extinct. (That’s my unbylined Noel Redding obit from 2003.)

I think of a Simpsons gag from way back with Jimi and Bach up in the clouds playing air hockey. “That’s game, Hendrix!” Bach says.

... and I mean that in the most hallelujah-the-boys-are-up-in-heaven kind of way.

Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), Noel Redding (1945-2003) and Mitch Mitchell (1946-2008), RIP.



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Jim White song, interview

Tooting own horn dept.:

PhotobucketFor the latest Popcast, the Times’ weekly music podcast, Jim White dropped by our “studio” (converted, unsoundproofed office). When I met him in the lobby he was wearing a utilitarian green polyester jacket and an even more utilitarian white cap, like the one below (which he apparently signed for a fan). He carried a nice-looking guitar that he had gotten for a song at a Georgia flea market — a sure sign of recession, he said.

White is a natural raconteur. And although he’s often pegged as simplistic “Southern gothic” (I’m guilty of using that critical crutch), he embraces his Southernness and can articulate that muse in fascinating detail, as he did in the documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.

We talked about his time as a New York cab driver, his formative meeting with Tom Waits, and how he is struggling to write happier songs. (“I’ve got a lot of happy little tugboats turning the sad ship in the direction of the port of contentment,” he said.) He also played a brand-new piece, “The Runaway Song,” and talked about the teenage relationship that inspired it.

It’s a beautiful song, and I enjoyed my conversation with White, as I have recent interviews with Charles Hamilton, Jay Reatard, Julie Fowlis and Cory Chisel. But White’s best comment was edited out. He hit bottom in his Travis Bickle days when he spat on an 80-year-old woman: she was wasted and barfed in his cab, so he gave her what-for. “That’s when I realized something was missing in my life,” he said.

Listen to the full Popcast, which includes reviews of David Archuleta and Deborah Cox, here.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

New ‘Watchmen’ posters



Weird thing about the top one: the cars are going the wrong way. Was it designed by a Brit? Maybe even Dave Gibbons?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Voice from beyond: Jimmy Carl Black


Eerie coincidences dept.:

A couple of days ago I wrote an obituary for Jimmy Carl Black, the original drummer of the Mothers of Invention. He’s the one front and center in a beard and white dress on the cover of We’re Only In It for the Money, on which he famously introduced himself by saying, “Hi, boys and girls, I’m Jimmy Carl Black — I’m the Indian of the group.” Like the rest of the band, he was canned by Zappa in 1969.

Today in the mail I got a two-CD set by Jon Larsen, a jazz guitarist from Norway, called The Jimmy Carl Black Story. In his later years Black lived in Europe and played there with various people, including Eugene Chadbourne. Larsen’s album is a self-described “surrealistic space odyssey” that includes a fair amount of jimmycarlsploitation, like the second track, which is called, ahem, “Hi Boys and Girls, I’m Jimmy Carl Black.”

(According to the accompanying press release from Hot Club Records, the album is being released in the U.S. on Nov. 25, though it looks like as if you can get it now through eMusic.)

PhotobucketBut truly creepy is the last number, “Jimmy-As-A-Ghost,” an interstellar love story in which Black, whose vocals were apparently recorded by phone, narrates as a space-age Casper who had a fatal dalliance with “a very, very funky Mrs. Martian.”

But people, don’t despair, I’m back as crew-on-post.
Hi boys and girls,
Now I’m actually ... Jimmy-As-A-Ghost!

Disc 2 of the set is a spoken interview with Black, who goes into a good bit of detail about his early days and the juicy misadventures of a Rosencrantz Guildenstern in the glory days of 1960s rock. Track 11, for example, is called “Miami Pop Festival/Freak out at the Cast Away Hotel/Arthur Brown/Jimi Hendrix/A helping hand from unca Mickey.”

Here’s Track 1, whose title you could probably guess: “My name is Jimmy Carl Black.”