I’ve been watching the Ken Burns documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History and I’m astonished by how much I didn’t know about that era of American history. One example: a Gallup Poll from early 1939 revealed that 84-85% of American protestants and Catholics “opposed offering sanctuary to European refugees. So did more than one-quarter of American Jews.” This was after the well-reported “Night of Broken Glass” in November of 1938 when Hitler’s goons ransacked Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues through Germany and Austria, killing dozens of Jews and imprisoning thousands more.
I knew that Americans had become isolationist in the wake of World War I, but I had assumed that the so-called Greatest Generation had risen to the occasion when faced with the atrocities of the Nazis. Not so much. It’s shocking to see photos of young American protesters marching with “Make peace with Hitler” signs. FDR reinstated conscription and on October 16, 1940, American men had to register for the draft, and most Americans were not happy about it. Before I watched this episode I had assumed it was just lefty radicals like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger who opposed the war. Their band the Almanac Singers recorded one of my favorite protest songs, “Ballad Of October 16th.”
Oh, Franklin Roosevelt told the people how he felt
We damn near believed what he said
He said, “I hate war and so does Eleanor
But we won’t be safe ’til everybody’s dead.”
The connection between music and memories is as fundamental as that between heart and soul. We write songs about things we’ve done and people we’ve loved and those songs remind us that we are human. To be robbed of either is heartbreaking, to be robbed of both is tragic.
Glen Campbell has been frank about his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He announced his affliction in 2011 and embarked on a farewell tour—one that he had to take while he still could. If you love songs but aren’t familiar with Campbell’s work then you are missing some of the 20th century’s most endearing music. The towering shadow of his career is summarized in just the opening paragraph of his Wikipedia entry:
Campbell has released more than 70 albums. He has sold 45 million records and accumulated 12 RIAA Gold albums, 4 Platinum albums and 1 Double-Platinum album. He has placed a total of 80 different songs on either the Billboard Country Chart, the Billboard Hot 100, or the Adult Contemporary Chart, 29 in the Top 10 of which 9 peaked at number one on at least one of those charts.
And now he has one more song and album. His 78 years are reflected in this video, his last.
A couple of years ago, it blew my mind that Adele’s 21 had sold more than 100,000 copies per week for what ended up being 45 weeks by the time I stopped paying attention. Back then 21 had cumulative sales of a little over seven million. Well, guess what: it’s still selling.
Last week Adele’s 21 surpassed 11 million in U.S. sales. This is 189 weeks after it was released, and it has never once fallen out of the Billboard 200. In fact, Billboard‘s Keith Caulfield points out that “It has spent all but 11 of its chart weeks in the top 100.” That’s just bonkers.
If you’ve seen A Hard Day’s Night then you know George was definitely the coolest Beatle. If you’ve seen any clip of him you know it. And so it’s fitting that we celebrate George Harrison Week with Conan O’Brien and a cast of friends, family and admirers.
Beck Kicks it off with “Wah Wah” and the influence of All Things Must Pass on Beck’s sound become so obvious now.
Next is George’s old pal, Paul Simon with a tasty cover of “Here Comes the Sun.”
Guess what other flavor of rock isn’t dead, Gene Simmons? Garage Rock! Yes, there are lots of bands out there banging away on rough guitar riffs and smashface drum parts. I like Toronto’s Pet Sun, made up of a gang of high school pals who just can’t let go of the rock.
The band’s first official release is out on September 27 and includes this gloriously bizarre video for the single, “Feel Like I’m Going Away.”
While we all loved KISS as kids we also now know Gene Simmons is an unbearable blowhard and apparently a dipshit too. How else do we explain his claim that rock and roll is dead? Maybe if you never go to clubs or talk to people who pay attention to independent music or have no access to the Internet or record stores or…
Not only is rock and roll still very much alive but classic rock (Simmons’ own genre) is chuggling along just fine too. Exhibit A: Handsome Jack
Heavy, fuzzy, muddy guitar tones sloppily bump up against a wheezy Hammond organ and leave you with the distinct feeling of dudes in jean vests slowly lumbering around the floor while their cougars prowl the perimeter. No pretense, no skinny pants, no Swatches to be seen. This is your dad’s rock and roll. And your dad was cooler than you.
Chuck D continues to rule. The Public Enemy leader comes to Chicago to hang out with Mavis Staples and to showcase 2120 South Michigan Avenue, the former home of Chess Records. Also featured prominently in the video is Tribune/Sound Opinions critic Greg Kot’s Mavis biography, I’ll Take You There. Chuck’s new album, The Black In Man, is available now via Rap Central Station.
I’m a Letterman guy; always have been. I would stay up super late on hot summer nights getting fat on PB&J and honing a sense of humor built on Bill Murray and David Letterman. They’re Midwestern guys like me. We’re a bit sarcastic but generally good guys with an honest (earnest?) love of good things.
One of the reasons I love David Letterman is that he isn’t shy about getting geeky on bands he loves. He did it hilariously with Future Islands and now gives a big gap-toothed sweet nothing to Ryan Adams. The song veers way to close to Glenn Frey for my tastes but I can’t help but fall in with Dave’s enthusiasm.
I have a soft spot for dreamy pop songs. As noted many, many times here in the past, I am a nostalgic sort so it should come as no surprise that anything that is at once contemporary and referential of hazy memories and half-dreams would be my jam. I bought the Julie Cruz album, for heaven’s sake!
David Vandervelde’s new LP Shadow Sides has those elements. It’s warbly and wobbly and a bit out of focus, but the colors come through vibrant and rich. Yes, like a Polaroid. I am guessing that’s by design because his aural style is so clearly defined and consistently applied it can’t be by mistake.
Dig this track, “One More Time” and lament your 8th grade break up all over again.
Spooky, moody, space-y jams with more than a hint of impending doom? Count me in. Blackburn Hall is the new outfit from Pete Hall, formerly of A Northern Chorus. There are echoes of all your favorite echo-laden precursors but there’s something different deep down. Maybe all is not well on the Canadian plains? Maybe?
The debut album covers a bit more ground than you might expect with some melodies you might find sitting as comfortably in Ben Gibbard’s mind as in Bobby Hecksher’s. “Echoes Beat Louder Than Drums” is my favorite so far and the video of old timey toy commercials adds an extra layer of darkness.