Ten years. Ten Lollas in Grant Park. I had a cutting edge mobile phone in 2005 — the Motorola RAZR — but I didn’t know how to text properly. There were no iPhones, no Twitter, YouTube hadn’t officially launched yet, and Facebook was still exclusive to college students.
Lollapalooza 2005 seems quaint in retrospect. It was only two days long, there were less than 60 bands, the whole thing took place south of Buckingham Fountain, all four main stages were crammed onto Hutchinson Field… And yet this year’s event would hardly seem unrecognizable to a time traveler from 2005. It’s still, as I said back at the time, “an event as corporate and branded and manipulative as anything any marketing genius could ever devise.” And despite that, with the right attitude, it can still be a lot of fun.
Over the years I have seen so many memorable performances at Lollapalooza. Would most of these have been better suited to a dark club as opposed to a big, sweaty field in the middle of the day? Absolutely. But let’s be honest. I cram more bands into three days at Lolla than I go out and see for the rest of the year combined. Is that pathetic? Maybe so, but I’m busy. I’m a grown up. And a big festival provides me with the opportunity to stumble across something unexpectedly great that I never would have sought out on my own. So I return to Lolla every year in spite of the weak lineups that — looking back — I’ve publicly bitched about almost every year.
There were sweaty summer days in the late 80s where we’d sit around the house watching TV and chugging Mello Yello. We were American teens with a thing for British culture and in addition to the NME and Melody Maker, most of our understanding of Arcadia came from The Young Ones.
This passage from one of our favorite episodes is the best tribute we can think of for Rik Mayall, who died today at 56:
This house will become a shrine, and punks and skins and rastas will all gather round and hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader. And all the grown-ups will say, “But why are the kids crying?” And the kids will say, “Haven’t you heard? Rick is dead! The People’s Poet is dead!”
Hands up, who likes Rick? This time, all hands are raised.
Let me start by saying that I am not even sure I like this band. That’s not to say that I am trying to get a pass on them. I might like them, I might not. Whether I do is not the point. It’s that I can’t figure it out yet I will excitedly watch any late night TV performance of Future Islands—a statement I cannot make about bands I love.
Obviously, the focus of my semi-obsession is on the singer, Samuel T. Herring. I haven’t read anything about him or the history of the band so let’s run with some of my assumptions:
- He’s clearly the guy pushing the band forward. He’s the guy who has been pestering people about his band to the point where they are now regularly on national TV. The rest of the band seems to be barely paying attention. The bassist thought the band broke up 15 years ago, but here they are.
- His awkward, intense dancing is unnerving and fascinating. He OWNs this dance. Nobody else can match him. Nobody. Mick Jagger and Bruno Mars are weak fakers just walking through some moves. Samuel T. Herring is the real deal.
- Kinda memorable melodies and disco beats aren’t really enough these days so Samuel T. Herring goes full Cookie Monster to cut through the clutter. That takes some real balls.
- Samuel T. Herring can and will do Monty Python impressions for hours on end as long as someone—anyone—is still paying attention.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- He “stole” Marvin Gaye’s mojo for his song of the summer, “Blurred Lines”
- 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.