Category Archives: music

Rock Island Party Line: Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World by Billy Bragg

Lonnie Donegan collectionFor the Dallas Morning News, I reviewed folk singer Billy Bragg’s new history of skiffle, a largely forgotten British musical form that linked blues and “trad jazz” with rock and roll in the mid-to-late 1950s. Enjoy.

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Quindar Love

IMG_4995For my day job at Air & Space / Smithsonian, I wrote about Quindar, an electronic music duo comprised of art historian James Merle Thomas and Wilco multinstrumentalist Mikael Jorgensen. In their multimedia live performances and on their debut album Hip Mobility, the pair finds inspiration in the ephemera of the pre-Shuttle space program.

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Yulemix 2016, The Christmas Hack, has already breached your unsecured server. Submit and make merry.

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Good news! I’ve overcome my profound Electoral Affective Disorder to assemble yet another mood-elevating, hall-decking, merry-making Christmas mixtape. This one—my eleventh, for all you completists—kicks off with Charley Pride, one of only three African-American artists in history to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and it only gets funkier and more festive from there. Continue reading

Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me, reviewed for Washington Post Book World

Favorite Band

I’ve admired music critic Steven Hyden’s writing in Grantland since I first took notice of it a couple of years ago, so I was grateful for the opportunity to review his new book, Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life, for the Washington Post. If you’d like to read an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters, about the mid-80s clash of egos between Michael Jackson and PrinceSlate ran a piece of that chapter the day that Prince died.

I haven’t written about Prince (save for a few hundred Tweets) because I’ve been busy and I’ve found the prospect of it too overwhelming. His sudden death hit me much harder than Bowie’s did. I’m not sure why. I had enormous admiration for both of them, but I listen to Prince a lot more.

George Jones Talks About His Greatest Lines

My review of Rich Kienzle’s new biography The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones, is in Sunday’s Washington Post. There’s probably some other stuff in there that would be good to read, too, I bet.

Here’s a paragraph I had to cut for space.

Amid his dutiful, carefully sourced recounting of booze-lubricated recording sessions and singles, Kienzle highlights some amusingly unexpected sides of Jones, like when he told his ex-wife Tammy Wynette in a 1980 interview in Country Music (a magazine Kienzle contributed to for 24 of its 31 years) that if he had to find a second career he would enjoy being an interior decorator. He might fare better than he did as the proprietor of three outdoor country music parks, which he opened at three different points in his life and quickly abandoned. He was also wanton enough with his brand to lend it to random products: George Jones Country Sausage and, also, troublingly, George Jones Country Gold Dog Food and Cat Food. Kienzle notes that a TV spot for the latter was called “George Jones Talks About His Greatest Lines.” If a TV commercial has to have a title, that’s either an unfortunate one or a brilliant one for a pitch from a man whose life and career were so damaged by an eight-year dalliance with cocaine.

I wouldn’t ordinarily be so flip discussing something as serious as an addiction problem, but that ad beggars belief.

Hark! The Christmas Force Awakens Is Now Fully Armed and Operational

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Side B of my 2015 yulemix, The Christmas Force Awakens — Yuletunes Eclectice & Inexplicable Perfect X: Final Sequence, is posted. (Both sides are posted together on this page.)

There are always a couple of outtakes, but this one had more than a few. Cutting the mashup of The Pretenders’ “2000 Miles” and Chrissie Hynde’s controversial October 2015 Morning Edition interview about her new memoir was a hard call, but the right one. Cutting the mashup of John Williams “Imperial Death March” from The Empire Strikes Back and “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” from The Nutcracker was probably insane; we’ll never see this level of Star Wars fever again in my lifetime. The others may surface if I can summon the resolve to do this for an eleventh time.

May your days be shiny and chrome, and may the Christmas Force be with you. Merry Christmas.

Hark! The Christmas Force Awakens is now streamable for your hall-decking merriment.

2015-booklet-outsideHark! The tenth installment in my indefatigable Christmas mixtape series, entitled The Force Awakens — Yuletunes Eclectic & Inexplicable Perfect X: Final Sequence, is upon us. Side A is, anyway. Side B shall appear like the clanky ghost of Jacob Marley upon Ebeneezer Scrooge’s doorstep in one week’s time.

In the unlucky event your computer or personal electronic device is not equipped with a tape deck, you can stream Side A below. May your days be shiny and chrome, and may the Christmas Force be with you. Continue reading