The first American folk song written in English is a list of New England's Annoyances as felt by early Puritan colonists. One historian argues that the song was written in 1643 by Edward Johnson, who also founded the MA town of Woburn and authored the first printed history of New England. Another cover to listen to.
The premise of Jack Hamilton’s deep new study Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination seems like something that’s been on rock history’s tongue for a long time without ever quite leaving it. Chuck Berry, a black man with a guitar, had been a rock and roll archetype in 1960, but by the end of the decade Jimi Hendrix would be seen as rock’s odd man out for being... a black man with a guitar. How did that occur? "Tracing the Rock and Roll Race Problem" an interview in Pitchfork.
In a three-part series on BBC2 in the UK over February and March, Reginald D. Hunter travels across the (USA) south and explores the music and culture. There is a bunch of intriguing clips in advance. [more inside]
Lana Del Rey: Why a Death-Obsessed Pop Siren Is Perfect for Late-Stage Capitalist America (mirrored at Salon.com)
Lana Del Rey is pushing the envelope, and here's her message, delivered with a languid pout: 21st-century America is a rotting corpse, deadlocked culturally, economically, and politically. Since there's nothing we can do about it, let's enjoy ourselves as the body-politic disintegrates, perhaps by savoring some toothsome bites of the past: candy-colored Super 8 films, juicy jazz tunes and clips of sultry screen sirens. The future is a retrospective.
All of this echoes the ancient danse macabre, the dance of death, the motif that sprang out of the medieval horrors of war and the plague. It's a plea for fevered amusement while you've still got time.
Following in the footsteps of other songs switching up minor keys and major keys, Chase Holfelder's Star-Spangled Banner in minor key is particularly haunting.
Music Machinery presents a map of each U.S. state's most distinct favorite band or recording artist, as well as an app for playing with the data.
Gay Talese's "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold" appeared in Esquire Magazine in April 1966. Sinatra had turned down interview requests from Esquire for years and refused to be interviewed for the profile. Rather than give up, Talese spent the three months following and observing the man and interviewing any members of his entourage who were willing to speak -- and the final story was published without Sinatra's cooperation or blessing. In 2003, editors pronounced it the best article the magazine had ever published. Nieman Storyboard interviewed Talese last month about the piece and has annotated it with his comments. [more inside]
A month after its release, Naughty Dog's sweeping interactive epic The Last of Us is being hailed as one of the best games of all time, with perfect scores even from notoriously demanding critics. Inspired by an eerily beautiful segment from the BBC's Planet Earth, the game portrays an America twenty years after a pandemic of the zombiefying Cordyceps fungus (previously), leaving behind lush wastelands of elegant decay teeming with monsters and beset by vicious bandits, a brutal military, and the revolutionary Fireflies. Into this bleak vision of desperate violence journey Joel, a gruffly stoic Texan with a painful past, and his ward Ellie, a precocious teenager who may hold the key to mankind's future. Boasting tense, immersive gameplay, compelling performances from a diverse cast, a movingly minimalist score from Oscar-winning Gustavo Santaolalla, and an array of influences from Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, it's already being slotted alongside BioShock Infinite and Half-Life 2 as one of modern gaming's crowning achievements. And while it's hard to disentangle plot from action, you don't have to buy a PS3 to experience it -- YouTube offers many filmic edits of the game, including this three-hour version of all relevant passages. And don't miss the 84-minute documentary exploring every facet of its production. [more inside]
Sound American: Issue #4, The What Is American Music? Issue of the web-based magazine Sound American examines American music in some of its rich diversity. The issue includes a fabulous "mixtape" put together by Ian Nagoski of Canary Records of music recorded to 78-rpm disc by immigrant communities in the US. (***see interior note) [more inside]
Ephemeral New York 'chronicles an ever-changing, constantly reinvented city through photos, newspaper archives, and other scraps and artifacts that have been edged into New York’s collective remainder bin.' [more inside]
Listen to Sousa introduce his band playing The Stars and Stripes Forever. Or listen to his band play without him, as he was wary of recordings. Or listen to a take by a more recent symphonic band. Or renditions on the guitar (one, two), the organ (one, two), or the piano (one, two). Or performed by the muppets.
19th-century newspaper ads for patented stomach cures and digestive aids [...] foregrounded mince pie as the K2 of digestive summits. But for every published warning on the dangers of mince, the newspapers published a poem, essay, or editorial praising it as a great symbol of American cultural heritage or a nostalgic reminder of mother love and better times bygone—or even, as the State of Columbia, South Carolina, asserted in 1901, a beneficial Darwinian instrument that had "thinned out the weak ones" among the pioneering generations.So wrote Cliff Doerksen in his wonderful, James Beard award-winning article Mince Pie: The Real American Pie. Doerksen not only gives the history of this once most American of foods, he also makes two mince pies from 19th Century recipes to see if they are indeed all that. This is but one of many great articles Doerksen wrote for The Chicago Reader in recent years (links to a selection below the cut). Sadly, Cliff Doerksen passed at the age of 47 just before Christmas. [more inside]
In recession-hit Saginaw, MI, the initial setting of Simon and Garfunkel's "America", mural painter Eric Shantz has begun painting the lyrics to the song on abandoned buildings.
David Bowie's response to his first American fan letter. In 1967, 14 year old Sandra Adams wrote a letter to Bowie. According to Bowie himself, this was his first bit of fan mail from the States. The response, though brief, is funny and sincere.
Brenda Kenneally documents the effects of illegal drugs in her Brooklyn, New York neighborhood. Money Power Respect and Big Trigg. NSFW [previous comment]
Wynton Marsalis waxes poetic (and music) at the Kennedy Center about art, freedom, jazz, the minstrel shows of yesterday and today, Walt Whitman, American history, the similarities between the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Mickey Mouse Club March, rock and roll, and how it all ties together. [more inside]
Music has been used in American military prisons and on bases to induce sleep deprivation, "prolong capture shock," disorient detainees during interrogations—and also drown out screams. Based on a leaked interrogation log, news reports, and the accounts of soldiers and detainees, here are some of the songs that guards and interrogators chose.
On the cusp of DEVO's first tour of Europe since 1990, it's become clear that, though largely cast aside after their 1980 hit "Whip It", DEVO's influence is finally being felt on modern audiences, around the world. DEVO has inspired tribute bands, some traditional, some not. They've also spawned new bands, domestic [MySpace link], and Foreign like Japan's POLYSICS [YouTube], and Germany's Mutate Now [YouTube]. With musical inspiration like this, can't we forgive such missteps as Devo 2.0?
Jazz '71-'89 Dave Douglas posed the challenge: “Is there a writer who can take on the project of an unbiased overview of music since the end of the Vietnam War?” The Bad Plus answered (though not unbiased). The Guardian and NY Times weighed in. Suck it, haters. And ultimately, Behearer used a wiki to answer the call.
The Nickel Under The Foot is one of the most important songs in the history of the American theatre. The back story.
Sound Team didn't think much of the review that Pitchfork gave them and replied via YouTube. [via] (which also reports on the winner of the Moo & Oink contest).
The verses no one dares to sing these days... Till selfish gain No longer stain The banner of the free!
Whitney Music Box [flash] from KrazyDad. You can read about and see examples of John Whitney's work on this extremely ugly website.
Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany's was one of those songs that I grew up with. It had few words and was especially written for Audrey Hepburn's limited range, making it easy to sing along to. Unfortunately the version I'd most like to hear, by Morrisey, doesn't seem to be working at the moment. Highlights of those I've listened to so far are Kid Koala and Nan Vernon (Japanese).
Ry Cooder's Ry Cooder's new album Chávez Ravine captures the world of the vibrant Chicano community that was bulldozed in the 1950's to build Dodger Stadium. Don Normark's book Chavez Ravine: 1949 provides more background on the place that was once a "poor man’s Shangri-la." of "wild roses, tin roofs, and wandering goats" where life "was lived fully, openly, and joyfully" before it was destroyed.
Building a Better Way: Music from the 1974 Chevrolet Announcement Film • "An interesting look at some of the musical trends from the early 70s. A little Isaac Hayes, a little John Denver, some Allman Brothers and a few sounds from that new-fangled instrument, the synthesizer."
Joe Bussard is the self-proclaimed king of record collectors (pre-war 78s, of course). He'll even make you a tape. According to Bussard, jazz died in 1933. Were the '20s America's golden age? Great art, architecture, movies, and even coins.
U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. Privacy & Piracy: The Paradox of Illegal File Sharing on Peer-to-Peer Networks and the Impact of Technology on the Entertainment Industry. View the hearing of September 29. [Real Media].
Is American "Roots Music" here to stay, or will it peter out like the "folk revival" of the 1960's? The recent PBS series, as well as re-issues of classic bluegrass sets, portend well for those of us who love bluegrass. But is it just a flash-in-the-pan? What was the magic behind O Brother, Where Art Thou? Does anyone remember the old masters like Doc Watson, Merle Travis, or Vassar Clements? (Not to mention the Queen of the genre, Mother Maybelle Carter.) Or maybe you prefer the newcomers like Alison Krauss/Union Station.