Kacey Musgraves in Joshua Tree

Kacey Musgraves gives me hope for America’s future

There’s no question that over the past couple of years Americans have really come around on two major political issues: gay rights and marijuana legalization. A poll from earlier this year found that 59% of Americans approve of same sex marriage. It wasn’t that long ago (1998) that Ellen DeGeneres lost her ABC sitcom after coming out. Later that year, NBC’s “Will & Grace” seemed positively subversive. That probably seems insane to kids today, but it’s true.

Acceptance of marijuana has been a lot more gradual, but it’s still shocking for those of us came of age in Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” 80s to see people finally loosening up about pot. Not only is recreational marijuana use legal now in Colorado and Washington, but 19 additional states allow medical marijuana and 12 more states have pending legislation in the works. A recent poll found that 55% of Americans believe that marijuana should be made legal.

These poll numbers are soaring and they’ll continue to climb as grouchy, uptight old people die off. Young people don’t care what you smoke or who you hook up with. It’s almost fun to watch the social conservatives freaking out and getting wackier as they realize they’re on the losing side of history. They know they’re going to be seen in the same light as the assholes with the “Whites Only” drinking fountains. Not surprisingly, bigots skew old, Southern, conservative, and less educated.

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Beatles

The Beatles: Dying Young

If we think back to our English 101 classes, classes that occurred so long ago, we’ll undoubtedly recall a poem by A.E. Housman, even though we have no idea who the hell A.E. Housman was, which is somewhat understandable, given that he died in 1936, and we’d be unlikely to have any reason to read him outside of an English 101 class.  (Sort of sad to think that he is considered one of the greatest scholars of all time, and here I am, dismissing him like some circus curiosity.)

Our familiarity would be with one of his poems, “To an Athlete Dying Young.”  The opening quatrain:

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

But then, as the title indicates, the athlete died.  And Housman writes:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

 

Which brings me to the Beatles.

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Total U.S. Album Sales (physical + digital in millions)

Music Sales Over the Years: 2013 Year-End Soundscan Data

I love it when Billboard releases the year-end Soundscan data. It’s fascinating to see how people are spending their money on music. I wouldn’t be surprised if within a few years Billboard starts incorporating streams into their year-end charts somehow. Although — come to think of it — I’m not sure whether or not the streaming services have a way of tracking “album streams,” or if they even care. I would imagine it’s a miniscule number anyway without much relevance to anything.

I still listen to albums sometimes, but I spend most of my day with iTunes shuffling a byzantine custom playlist that depends on a song’s ranking, when it was last played, etc. It’s convoluted but it works for me and makes sure that songs I love don’t fall off my radar completely. I’ve dipped into streaming a bit but it doesn’t totally appeal to my sense of hoarding. Yet.

My favorite albums of 2013 were Phosphorescent’s Muchaho and Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City. I also totally obsessed over Father John Misty’s Fear Fun (2012).

Anyway, here’s the Soundscan data for 2013 compared to as much prior history as I could scrape off the internet. If you can help me fill in any gaps (especially 1991-1995, the early Soundscan era), I would certainly appreciate it.

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Robin Thicke will eat your feet.

I’m Down With Alan Thicke

I’ve mostly avoided the hullabaloo around Robin Thicke because I thought I didn’t care, but the truth is that it bugs the shit out of me. Not because I feel a need to defend him (but I will) or that I think he’s some amazing artist (who cares?) but because the hypocrisy of the whole thing is just obnoxious. I mean, really…are we really ready to surrender to the squares?

The basic argument against Thicke breaks down along two lines:

  1. He “stole” Marvin Gaye’s mojo for his song of the summer, “Blurred Lines”
  2. He’s a lout for carrying on with Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards and calling women bitches

The first is so preposterous I am amazed I even have to address it, but here it goes: Popular music always has and always will feed on itself.

Traditional folk music and bluegrass structure is built around a handful of simple patterns. Same with the blues. Same with most rock and roll, including so much of the rock canon we all adore.

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Bob-Dylan-1966-barry-feinstein

A Glorious Noise Guide to Bob Dylan

Bob-Dylan-1966-barry-feinstein

I have a favorite era of Dylan, and it’s short: 1965-66. There’s stuff he did before and after that I like a lot, but the bulk of my mix comes from those two years. And I’ll defend that decision to the death; feel free to make your own Dylan playlist that represents his career more thoroughly. These are songs that I love, songs that showcase my favorite themes of Dylan’s catalog: aching love songs, bitter breakup songs, country-fried rock songs with trippy wordplay. That’s my bag.

There aren’t any “protest” songs here (Dylan dismissed them as “finger pointing songs”), but there’s still plenty of finger pointing. Instead of obvious targets such as warmongers and segregationists, my favorite Dylan songs take aim at his fellow Baby Boomers for being a bunch of pretentious phonies. He was prescient like that.

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Rockin’ the Vodka on the (Lava) Rocks

Given the anti-gay laws and whole Edward Snowden contretemps, it seems as though Russian vodka isn’t as popular in drinking establishments in the West as it once was, which provides an opening for distillers from other countries. . .including Iceland.  Yes, the land of Björk.

Timing is good for Reyka vodka, which uses lava rocks for filtration, especially as it is running a contest for musicians, DJs and fans to perform at and attend the Iceland Airwaves music festival, which will be held October 30 to November 3.

Musicians and DJs have until August 19 to send in their work to Reyka, using Grooveshark (http://grooveshark.com/reykabands).  Music lovers have time for a cocktail or two, as they’re not to sign up for their chances to win until later this month: they can do it on Reyka’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ReykaVodka) from August 30 th through September 30 th.

There will be two bands and two fans sent to the festival among the glaciers and lava.

Says Reyka senior brand manager Lindsay Prociw, “We want our creative friends around the world to flock to Reyka’s land as a beacon of inspiration and imagination, and we’re happy to shepherd them one band, or fan, at a time.”

Presumably with a sufficient number of Reykas on the rocks, and shepherding is a requirement.

 

Lollapalooza

Lollapalooza 2013: Fun Times in Babylon

Lollapalooza

Friday

There’s something thrilling — maybe even masochistic — about entering a big music festival on the first day. So many people at the gates, squeezing in, getting hassled by security goons, all intent on making it inside. Once you’re finally in, you can take a deep breath and get your bearings. Bar, porta-potties, stages. Check, check, check.

I showed up on Friday at Lollapalooza excited to see Father John Misty, and Josh Tillman’s band did not disappoint. Tillman is a charismatic front man, poking fun at both the VIPs in the platinum section as well as the “idiots in the back.” The band was tight and since they only have one album, they played all my favorite songs. It was such a great show that I was afraid nobody would be able to top it for the rest of the weekend.

Father John Misty
Father John Misty
Crystal Castles had me thinking how the electronic stuff that used to be relegated to Perry’s tent/stage has spilled over on to the main stages. I was coming up with a theory about EDM’s recent influence on indie rock…when New Order came on and reminded me that this has actually been going on for at least 30 years. Beer can make you a little slow.

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Rock and roll can change your life.