When it comes to approach of identity-definition, there are two kinds of artists.
The first kind develops his/her craft and his idiom as far as they can go, and then, once sensing that the craft and idiom have within themselves some kind of success-potential for communication of ideas and sentiments, settles upon them. The artist decides to perfect his/her selected approach - and perform it and publish it - again and again and again. And it works well. Audiences who dig it do dig it and don’t ask questions.
The second kind possesses and revels in his/her craft and his idiom as parts of him/herself, and then, once sensing their abilities and limitations in terms of potential for artistic achievement, rejects them. The artist decides that s/he will reinvent the selected craft - and dress it in different fabrics and colors and styles - again and again and again. And it works well. Audiences who dig it do dig it, mostly, and ask an ongoing plethora of ever-changing questions as they bear witness to the eternal evolution of the artist’s craft.
“I wish I had a heart like ice,” Donald Fagen—or rather his character, uber-hip yet lovelorn jazz DJ Lester—yearns in “The Nightfly.” The track is a high point on an autobiography-infused nostalgiAlbum of high points. The Nightfly, Fagen’s debut solo recording—which also featured classics “I.G.Y.” and “New Frontier”—was nominated for seven Grammy awards and released in 1982.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to band legacies. The first being—once the original lineup is disbanded, the band is dead forever, its name included. The second being—as long as a founding member or two remain involved, as long as a spark of the band’s core identity somehow remains, the band can go on living and using its name. The Yardbirds are of the second school, and for the past few decades, drummer-composer Jim McCarty has led the blues-rock group that he co-founded in a way that maintains its awe-worthy history and simultaneously insists upon a perpetual newness. The same kind of newness that accompanied the Yardbirds’ nightly rave-ups during their early ‘60s Crawdaddy Club residency, once the Rolling Stones had outgrown the role.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, All Things Must Pass, and Exile on Main St.—three rock and roll albums with several captivating commonalities. All were recorded and released in the early 1970s. All are now widely regarded as some of the most remarkable albums ever made in the history of popular music. All were included on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list, too. And all featured singer-keyboardist extraordinaire Bobby Whitlock.
Fifty years into a legendary career, most bands are content to rest on their hits, releasing bland blues covers albums or bored-yet-pleasant regurgitations of their earliest work. Procol Harum is not “most bands.”On the 50th anniversary of their debut album, the English prog rock icons continue to remain a singular force in modern rock music, embracing the new-song, best-song philosophy on their first album in 14 years, Novum, out on Friday, April 21, via Eagle Records.
Before the Steve Miller Band, there was the Steve Miller Blues Band. Before the Joker, before the Space Cowboy, before Maurice, there was Steve – guitarist extraordinaire, young, beautiful, and insanely talented, with an intense affinity for and knowledge of American Blues and Roots music. This Steve, in conjunction with Jazz at Lincoln Center, has been responsible for shining a bright light on the important historical and artistic roles that Blues guitar has played in American history - and, stemming from that, the role that Blues guitar has played in Steve Miller’s artistic journey. Some musicians seem to move further and further away from their creative roots and influences as they become more and more grounded in their lasting legacy, a legacy that propels itself into the future. But Steve is smarter than them; he always was.
Perhaps there are no two greater examples of cinematic contrast during this year’s Oscar season than Damien Chazelle’s La La Land and Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women. Both films will most likely land some number of Oscar nominations when they’re announced in Hollywood later this month. Both films are of cultural value and demonstrate emotionally aesthetic achievement. Both films showcase top-marks performances by their primary actors. But where La La Land presents thin, one-coat-only, brush strokes in its character paintings, 20th Century Women presents multi-layered, messy and imperfect, endlessly complex and fascinating portraits of real people.
“He got what he wanted but he lost what he had.” Rock writer Greil Marcus, aficionado-scholar of American music, cultural history, and of The Band, uses this Little Richard quote as a jumping off point to tell the story of American rock ‘n’ roll music in his 1975 work Mystery Train.
Little Richard’s line is the quintessential punishment that often seems to accompany American success stories, like those of Jay Gatsby or Charles Foster Kane. It doesn’t seem to apply to that of Robbie Robertson however, co-founder, main songwriter, and lead guitarist of The Band. (Robertson is Canadian after all.) From a reading of his recently released autobiographical work Testimony: A Memoir, one can conclude that Robertson got a great deal of what he worked for and managed to not lose everything that he began with.
What defines a quality music producer? Well-informed and developed artistic taste? Phenomenal technical prowess in the recording studio? Is it someone who stands off to the side of the musicians, supporting and supplying yet allowing complete artistic freedom? Or is it someone who tugs, digs, bends, and sometimes breaks a top-marks result out of the performers concerned? To each his own, seems to suggest the brand-new eight-part PBS series Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music, the first two episodes of which premiered at this year’s DOC NYC Festival (full episodes are available for viewing here).
This is the material world and if one vice doesn’t do you in, another one surely will. If nothing else, there is the obvious and ongoing erosion of each present self, the sly voice within us that lurks beneath the most laudatory of our triumphs. Mortality renders the measurability of our accomplishments to be largely at our own discretion. Sometimes this reaches us during the overwhelming silence of 3AM insomnia, sometimes during the most blissed-out of moments, when we’re trying our hardest to keep this knowledge at bay.
“Days, where’d you go so fast?” Gerry Beckley asks in “Bell Tree,” his bittersweet beauty-soaked song on America’sHearts album. The band’s fifth studio recording, which also featured Beckley’s chart-toppers “Sister Golden Hair” and “Daisy Jane,” was produced by George Martin and released in 1975. Beckley’s latest solo record Carousel is due in stores next month (September 9th) via indie label Blue Élan Records. Over the course of the album’s nine original tracks and three cover songs, Beckley offers up more seasoned articulations of his “Bell Tree” question. The irresistibly-catchy “Tokyo,” the Beatles-ish “Lifeline,” and the poetic “Once a Distant Heart,” all deal directly with our mortal inability to transcend the weight and power of time passed, passing, and soon-to-be-passed.
Mean Streets' loud aural landscape with its intense songs and aggressive language, filled often with frustration, emphasizes Charlie’s (Harvey Keitel's) self-imposed separation, resulting from his quest to “save” his whacked-out pal Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro) and simultaneously do his own penance.
What is proof enough to determine that a historical event did indeed happen? The accounts of firsthand witnesses? Written documented records? Handed-down legends? Where the imperfect memories of human beings (and not much else) are involved, it becomes increasingly difficult to know for sure. In his latest film, and first feature-length one at that, documentarian Jeff Krulik employs all of these evidential elements in order to conclude whether or not Led Zeppelin played here.
It is the evening of March 21st 1977 at the Capitol Centre, a now-extinct concert arena in a suburb of Washington, D.C. The Eagles are on stage. “Thank you and Good Evening,” Glenn Frey says to the audience following the group’s rendition of “Hotel California.” He stands upright, focused, guitar-draped, dressed in Young-American seventies garb - blue jeans, and a University-of-Colorado t-shirt. He is beautiful, he is a success, his band, having just released its career-topping Hotel California album, is a success. He knows it.
Dennis Hopper’s 1969 film Easy Rider is perhaps the most definitive film of the 1960’s American counterculture. Along with producer Peter Fonda and screenwriter Terry Southern, Hopper had witnessed the rise and pre-fall of the youth movement that had been accelerating over the course of the decade, and wanted to speak to it directly. The characters’ journey paints a landscape of a deeply divided nation, a nation purporting to be a “land of the free” where anyone with long hair is verbally abused and sometimes murdered.
Nearly all of the characters featured in Percival Everett’s new short story collection, Half an Inch of Water (Graywolf Press), are in various states of emotional or psychological agitation. They cannot be still inside of any single moment for very long. The nine stories in this new collection all take place, as is usually the case for Everett’s fiction, in the erican West of today. This West is not mythologized and looks nothing like the Hollywood West of John Ford and John Wayne. Though rather than replace this version with a gritty and overly harshened Real West, Everett colors his fictional landscape with the objectivity and indifference of Nature.
People do crazy things when they are in states of want. The wanter who utters - or sings - “I want you, I want you, I want you” is past all hope. He is in the hellish nether regions of lust-gone-wrong and is capable of anything. Without checks or balances on lust, murder and other extremes sometimes find their ways into the picture. This singular kind of want, this obsessive kind, leaves no room for the want of anyone else, it leaves no room for the potentially mutual want of its object of desire. This kind of want is proud, it is churlish, it roars harder, moans louder, digs its nails in deeper than any other want could ever do. This kind of want wants to win.
“I move around a lot, not because I’m looking for anything really, but because I’m getting away from things that get bad if I stay,” says Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson), the protagonist of Bob Rafelson’s 1970 classic Five Easy Pieces. Bobby Dupea is The Guy who Never Grew Up, and this line of dialogue spoken during a revelatory speech to his incapacitated father, perhaps best sums up his character, as well as the overall mood of the film.
“The ferryman takes you from one bank of the river in his little craft, his boat, to the other bank of the river,” says Sir Ben Kingsley on this variety of the taxi-passenger experience. “You get off his boat and feel that your molecules have somehow been rearranged. You’ve learned something, something’s happened, there’s been a transition, though you might not be quite sure what it is.”
Pete Donnelly’s musical resume is pretty damn impressive. He’s the bass player firmly associated with legendary rock band NRBQ. He’s the singer-songwriter with several solo releases to his name. He’s the co-writer of “I Can’t Imagine,” the title track of Shelby Lynne’s recently released album. And of course, he’s the founding member of phenomenal rock band The Figgs, having worked with The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, as well as the great Graham Parker.