Phil Dellio invited me on to his Sunday morning radio show on CKLN to count down our respective Top 10s of the decade. Some technical difficulties ensured that large portions of our back and forth spiel were drowned out by the music, but we manage every so often to seep through the static with the usual trenchant commentary.
You can listen to the entire broadcast, flubs and all, below (total running time = 90 min).
Phil, meanwhile, has posted our lists over at his place.
Oh, decade, about which we cannot agree on a name… be gone already!
I never did properly finish up with the “favourite music reads of the ’00s” did I? (Well, I guess Mr. Wenner waxing lyrical about Mr. Jagger was my sarcastic kissoff to the project.) Truth is, I could have posted another two or three dozen (at least) great pieces, but, as usually happens when I embark on these listy web projects, I lost steam, interest, breath, gumption, etc. before reaching the finish line (not that I ever defined what the finish line was). There’s also the fact that a lot of my favourite writing about pop in the last ten years happened not in articles or essays or reviews or books per se, but in comments boxes and chat boards and e-mails and blog and livejournal and facebook posts — stuff that I didn’t (and probably couldn’t) even begin to properly track. I felt like I was trying to tell a story in those posts that was a bit false. Don’t get me wrong — I really did love the stuff I linked to, but the whole thing started to feel a bit too “official” for me, and counter-intuitive to the way I’ve come to find and enjoy music writing.
Anyway, I do feel a bit guilty about short-shrifting so many critics here, so at least allow me the opportunity to link to some writing by one of my three or four favourite music critics of the decade — someone I didn’t get to in the first 25 entries but who could easily have been represented in half a dozen of his own entries: Marcello Carlin. I first encountered Marcello’s writing on I Love Music and have continued to follow him ever since through various blogs, from the indispensable The Church of Me to The Clothed Maja (which I believe was a follow-up to The Naked Maja, which sadly no longer exists) to his latest ventures, The Blue in the Air to Then Play Long — the latter a rundown of every British #1 LP (did I mention that Carlin is British?).
Click on any of those links and you’ll encounter a wealth of great material, though you’ll have to do the rest of the work yourself (I suggest you start by just randomly clicking through the archives). I am, however, happy to point you to Marcello’s latest (and rather timely) post, “Decade,” which neatly summarizes music blogging in the ’00s; the timeline he posits of the rise and fall makes a lot of sense to me. (Though FWIW, I intensely disagree with Marcello regarding comments boxes. Let commenters through, including all the moronic stuff, I say. I also have a longstanding beef with Andrew Sullivan about the same; let us decide if we want to read what other people think about what you write.)
(Just to be keep the rumour mill at bay: yes, it’s true, I DJ’d and acted as best man at Carlin’s wedding in Toronto a couple years ago. I also read and enjoy the writing of his wife Lena — cf. Music Sounds Better With Two and the now-dormant Carrot Rope. But no, neither of these factors impacted my judgment in naming him one of the music writers of the decade. Promise.)
Final-final thoughts on the decade still to come. Lucky you, it doesn’t involve very many words on a page.
“In the past, [Jagger] has slipped into personae – the Street Fighting Man, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, the Man of Wealth and Taste – but he lets his guard down to an unprecedented degree on Goddess; the beautiful ballads draw on feelings of loneliness, vulnerability, spiritual yearning and, as always, life with the ladies.”
“The lyrics portray a guy who’s got it all – fame, fortune and the means to indulge any materialistic and hedonistic impulse he might divine – but is wise enough in his late middle age to know there’s something more out there.”
“It may seem a truism, but it’s worth noting that he is – along with John Lennon, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Bono – one of the great male rock voices of this age. And he is in exceptional form on Goddess in the Doorway. If anything, Jagger’s voice is rounder and warmer than ever…”
“It is a clear-eyed and inspired Mick Jagger who crafted Goddess in the Doorway, an insuperably strong record that in time may well reveal itself to be a classic. World, meet Mick Jagger, solo artist.”
- Excerpts from Jann S. Wenner’s 5-Star review of Mick Jagger’s Goddess in the Doorway, Rolling Stone (2001)
There’s some so-so writing in this, and some highly questionable choices (particularly in light of some of the classic basslines overlooked), but the great stuff makes up for the lesser bits — surely anyone who approaches any list anywhere expecting “definitive” is in for a disappointment — and the concept alone is precisely what made Stylus the most essential online music ‘zine of the ’00s (sorry Pitchfork — you’re great at what you do but “what you do” has never meant a whole lot to me). In other words, there are probably a dozen other Stylus lists I could point to as well (and in fact, I may yet direct you to one or two others), but for some reason, this particular one just stuck with me.
Number-crunching and data analysis par excellence. Not to mention visually delightful — I’ve subtitled the 2006 edition “Bill James’s Baseball Abstract as Reimagined by Georges Seurat Though With a Somewhat Lesser Palette.”
“Roxy Music’s ‘More Than This’ is a drift, a float. The sounds coming out of Ferry’s mouth, except for the chorus, when the whirlpool is stopped, when it’s centered, when he steps out as if to make a speech, are a golden smear.
“Four minutes and fifteen seconds long, the song begins to fade after two minutes and thirty-two seconds. You hear ‘More than this — nothing’ — and then Phil Manzanera, who has simply been counting off the rhythm behind Ferry, play his solo. It’s maybe eleven bent blues notes — there and gone in under three seconds. It is the most elegant and ephemeral distillation of the guitar solo, any guitar solo, imaginable, and it brings up a question. What is a guitar solo? What happens when the singer steps back and gives the song — its themes, its argument, its imagery, its story — to a musician?”
- Greil Marcus, EMP Karaoke (2004)
“Good try, Jon Voight, John Turturro, and Dennis Miller, but the closest thing we’ve got to Howard Cosell right now is Alanis. Much like even non-football fans used to be mesmerized by Cosell’s genius for never using two words when 23 would do, you don’t have to be a love-damaged 17-year-old girl to find Under Rug Swept‘s dense verbiage a trip. Words tumble forth and arrange themselves kaleidoscopically into all sorts of unusual categories. Multi-Syllable We-Can’t-Even-Think-of-a-Word-That-Rhymes Words: ‘communicative,’ ‘connectedness,’ ‘reciprocity,’ ‘vacillated.’ D-Verbs That Nobody Ever Really Uses: ‘derive,’ ‘divulge,’ ‘dispel,’ ‘disarm,’ ‘discern’ (what, no ‘delineate’?). Support-Group Thanks-for-Sharing Words: ‘engage in dialogue,’ ‘provide forums,’ ‘conflict resolution,’ ‘playing the victim,’ ‘survival mode,’ ‘midlife crisis.’ Ambivalence-Is-Maybe-Possibly-a-Sign-of-Wisdom Words: ‘not necessarily,’ ‘supposed,’ ‘so-called,’ ‘essentially,’ ‘conditional.’ Alanis-Must’ve-Made-These-Up Words: ‘ungood,’ ‘arms-lengthing.’ Perfectly useful, a lot of them, and the point definitely isn’t that dumb is better or purer than smart. I’m just not sure that pop music should come out of a thesaurus. ‘(I Can’t Derive No) Satisfaction,’ ‘Thank You for Engaging in Dialogue With Me Africa,’ ‘A Person I’ve Been Spending Time With in a Romantic Way’s Back’ — the world’s a better place without them.”
- Phil Dellio, Thesaurus in My Pocket, Village Voice (2002)
“Four albums in and she’d rather hurt you honestly than mislead you with a lie, ask her if she loves you and you’ll choke on her reply, but better her yodel than Shania’s yawn. Still torturing vowels like a helmetless goaltender from Chicoutimi, and as for sensitivity, James Hetfield should just go back to the firing range. (We can’t do that up here in Canada — they took away all our guns.) Romance and all its strategy leaves her battling with her pride, but through the insecurity some tenderness survives. Just another writer, trapped within her truths — a hesitant prizefighter, still trapped within her youth? This national institution would like to remind you that we’re having a national election north of the border, too, and while it might not be as significant as yours, it’s kind of cooler because of how amateurish the candidates are; they never face the cameras directly, and they stutter and forget their lines a lot while declaiming on issues like generating electricity from beaver treadmills.”
- Dave Queen, review of Alanis Morrissette’sSo-Called Chaos, Seattle Weekly (2004)
“One story has it that after avant-garde tenor player Archie Shepp came off stage following a performance full of honks, squeals, and bleats, he told pained auditor Johnny Griffin that he was expressing what it felt like to be a black man in America. ‘I know it’s hard,’ said Griffin, a black saxophonist who was no enemy of the modernist vanguard, having played with Thelonious Monk, ‘but why do you have to take it out on the music?’ For others, there was great beauty in the ostensible ugliness. Amiri Baraka in particular heard in the music a new paradigm of aesthetic value that required new modes of listening and engagement.”
- John Gennari, Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics, 2006
“There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age – and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.”
- Andrew Sullivan, “Thinking About Michael,” The Daily Dish, 2009
“The jerk of the knee always short-circuits critical engagement. I detest cabaret and Broadway nearly as much as Marsh does; yet I treasure those two Beatle recordings. I don’t care for the songs themselves — versions by others bore me stiff — but I love what the Beatles do with them. Their wintry ‘Taste of Honey’ tastes more like quicksilver, with its minor key, bitter guitar, and eerie third-person backing vocals. ‘Till There Was You’ has not only a vocal of surpassing freshness from Paul, but one of George’s loveliest guitar solos. Both are expressions of Beatle identity and cultural affinity as integral and unphony, I would argue, as anything they recorded in the early days. The fact that Marsh’s hatred of the songs’ generic origins precludes any consideration of them as Beatle performances points to one of his limits as a critic: to him, the mere entertaining of non-rock material proves the sin of inauthenticity.”
- Devin McKinney, “Dullblog Book Report: The Beatles’ Second Album by Dave Marsh,” hey dullblog, 2008
“My problem [with the word 'rockism'] is more personal: I can’t tell if I’m a rockist or not, or whether a lot of other rock critics are rockists or not (Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Richard Meltzer, Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, Chuck Eddy), and I think the confusion is in the concept, not in me. My problem with the antirockists was their tendency to externalize ‘rockism’ as some foreign body that needed to be defeated — or, if internal, as something that needed to be outgrown — rather than as cultural processes that we participate in. And authenticity… I may hate the noun form, but I find the adjectives — ‘real,’ ‘actual,’ ‘authentic’ — absolutely crucial, and the tensions they signal are as alive and burbling and googooing now as the day they were born.
“So, although I think we’d be better not to saddle ourselves with the word ‘rockism,’ the conversation needs to continue. Nothing’s been laid to rest. The issues are as alive now as in 1965 when fans booed Dylan for going electric, or in 1971 when Lester Bangs wrote ‘James Taylor Marked For Death,’ or in 1985…”
- Frank Kogan, “Rockism And Antirockism Rise From The Dead,” Las Vegas Weekly, 2008
“Rockism isn’t unrelated to older, more familiar prejudices – that’s part of why it’s so powerful, and so worth arguing about. The pop star, the disco diva, the lip-syncher, the ‘awesomely bad’ hit maker: could it really be a coincidence that rockist complaints often pit straight white men against the rest of the world? Like the anti-disco backlash of 25 years ago, the current rockist consensus seems to reflect not just an idea of how music should be made but also an idea about who should be making it.”
- Kelefa Sanneh, “The Rap Against Rockism,” New York Times, 2004
“I quit smoking cigarettes recently and I’ve been making do with Gummi Bears, the patch, and tons of righteous weed. So between Kid A, Madonna, and that new Doves album, I’ve been enjoying a summer of love in my mind. The Doves’ mantras of desolation are even trippier than the first couple Cranes records (though maybe not as lysergic as prime Swans or Ravens), Madonna’s new one makes the 13th Floor Elevators sound like the Weavers, and Kid A doesn’t have a thought in its head, always a plus with stoner rock. (Laddish punter Nick Hornby recently lambasted Radiohead for making an album only 16-year-olds could enjoy because apparently adults who have to work and buy food don’t have time to be “challenged” by rock records. What seems to be lost on Hornby is that the biggest challenge most listeners would have with Kid A would be getting the plastic wrap off the CD. I hope somebody bought Mr. Hornby some Lucinda, Victoria, and/or Dar Williams records for Christmas.)”
- Scott Seward, Snowplow You Bad Elephant!, Village Voice (2000)
Is anyone else already as sick of decade-end lists as I am? Everyday on Twitter and elsewhere I bump into (or am inundated by — there’s stuff coming in through e-mail as well) with best this-that-&-the-other-thing lists: albums (the most common list, by far), songs, metal bands, metal anthems, videos, movies, movie trailers, movie quotes, magazine covers, TV shows, fiction titles, non-fiction titles, book covers, music blogs, political blogs, video games, comics, comic characters… it goes on. I don’t know what tree I’m barking up here, I’m as implicated in the problem (wait — is it a problem?) as the stuff I’m pointing to (the only thing more clichéd than terminal listmaking is complaining about terminal listmaking). And yeah, I ask all this: a) smack dab in the middle of continuing with my list of “favourite reads” right here on this site (TBH, my own progress has slowed purely from fatigue with the concept itself); b) knowing damn well I’ll be putting together my own Top 10 songs list in a couple weeks or so (and engaging in a podcast/conversation about it, no less); and c) fully aware that I am shutting myself off from reading some interesting thoughts on the ’00s as a result of my fatigue.
So — not sure what I’m asking here exactly. Any general thoughts on the matter? Do you care about any of it at this point?
But at the far edge of the rap universe in the Black neighborhoods of Long Island, Chuck D, then a nineteen-year-old MC, remembers the impact of “Rapper’s Delight” differently. “I did not think it was conceivable that there would be such a thing as a hip-hop record,” he says. “I could not see it.” The famous DJ Eddie Cheeba had been out to Long Island and broken “Good Times” to Black audiences in May, promising as he played it that his own rap record would be out soon. “I’m like, record? Fuck, how you gon’ put hip-hop onto a record? ‘Cause it was a whole gig, you know? How you gon’ put three hours on a record?” Chuck says. “Bam! They made ‘Rapper’s Delight.’ And the ironic twist is not how long that record was, but how short it was. I’m thinking, ‘Man, they cut that shit down to fifteen minutes?’ It was a miracle.”
Ten tasty bites from Christopher R. Weingarten’s insanely laudable and laudably insane @1000TimesYes Twitter project (context provided here and here), starting just past the halfway mark, which is where I first tuned in (still in progress btw):
506) Twista/Category F5: Slow jams and fast game will always have their place. Hyphy tracks not so much, but hey.#6.5
591) Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson: A complete miscast of Scarlett’s fucked up pipes into a She & Him detergent commercial.#3.5
628) Trey Songz/Ready: You should sleep with Trey Songz because he knows Drake and is less crazy than R. Kelly.#6.5
716) Vitalic/Flashmob: It still rocks, but like solar-plexus-punching French house, not ZZ Top.#6.5
791) KISS/Sonic Boom: Somehow even cornier and more overproduced than their puffiest, most AquaNetted, unmasked-’80s hair-glam tragedies.#2.5
802) Alphabeat/The Spell: Within two years they stopped rollerskating to Bananarama and started rollerblading to Black Box.#7
806) Lil Wayne/No Ceilings: Relentless simile fest that sways from hilarious to unfortunate to “I made that pussy gleek.”#7.5
817) Wolfmother/Cosmic Egg: Fuckin A fuckin O fuckin R. But we’ve got the biggest balls of them all.#6
872) Kid Sister/Ultraviolet: When the cool kids invite you to their party and turn out to be as boring and talentless as you suspected.#1.5
884) The King Khan & BBQ Show/Invisible Girl: Mutant doo-wop blown out on a boombox and no less charming.#7
“What drives the need to consume everything, why was I happy as a teenager to dismiss whole swathes of stuff that I now feel compelled to try and understand? There’s an inverted music snobbery which demands that I, the gifted, erudite and trained listener, can get things out of listening to Yes or The Crazy Frog that other, less erudite listeners simply pass over on point of principal, a relativism which decrees that everything has some value, no matter how base or hidden, and that, if you only listened the right way, you too would see what that value is. There is also the demand, a perception heightened and perhaps solely manufactured by the proliferation of easily-available music and music criticism on the internet, that we all be infinite dilettantes, that simply because we have the opportunity to sample everything at the click of a mouse that we necessarily should. But if you’re a dilettante then you are a dilettante.”
- Nick Southall, “Soulseeking” column, Stylus (2005)
Barack Obama’s iPod vs. John McCain’s iPod. (Blender, July 2008)
1. “Ready or Not” (Fugees)
2. “What’s Going On” (Marvin Gaye)
3. “I’m On Fire” (Bruce Springsteen)
4. “Gimme Shelter” (Rolling Stones)
5. “Sinnerman” (Nina Simone)
6. “Touch the Sky” (Kanye West)
7. “You’d Be So Easy to Love” (Frank Sinatra)
8. “Think” (Aretha Franklin)
9. “City of Blinding Lights” (U2)
10. “Yes I We Can” (will.i.am)
1. “Dancing Queen” (ABBA)
2. “Blue Bayou” (Roy Orbison)
3. “Take a Chance On Me” (ABBA feat. Joe the Plumber)
4. “If We Make It Through December” (Merle Haggard)
5. “As Time Goes By” (Dooley Wilson)
6. “Good Vibrations” (The Beach Boys)
7. “What A Wonderful World” (Louis Armstrong)
8. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Frank Sinatra)
9. “Sweet Caroline” (Neil Diamond)
10. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” (The Platters)
“‘Adult Nite’ attracts some of these good skaters too, but often has a more desperate vibe. People show up in Hooters and Spanky’s t-shirts, comparing their tattoos and piercings while ranting about their dysfunctional ex-spouse(s). Then the Deadheads wink at the Surfers who wink back, and they all leave at once for the parking lot. When they come back, they’re smiling and their clothes reek of pot. Adult nite music is heavy metal — with the occasional Soft Cell song thrown in by a desperate DJ. Heavy metal generally isn’t good to skate to — it’s too fast — but AC/DC is the one exception.
“Saturday night is when the gang-bangers come out to skate. They usually hog the floor, even though they’re rarely good skaters. Once on the floor, they do a lot of pushing (both kinds) — usually only at each other, but with large enough gestures that those skating nearby sometimes get caught in a ricochet. Music then is mostly gangsta-rap (as difficult to skate to as metal is), but sometimes the DJ slips a diva into the mix, and that’s when everyone else who was complaining to him about the rap stuff lightens up and goes back to the floor.”
- Stripey, What’s a Girl Like Me Doing at a Rink Like This? (Freaky Trigger, 2002)