Category Archives: music

Yule Complete Me: Presenting (the second half of) My 12th Annual Christmas Mixtape, Noel Means Noel

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As usual, there were some painful cuts right at the end. I just had to get “Mistress for Christmas” on, even though I used it in (I think) 2011, to honor Malcolm Young of AC/DC. And “Every Day Is Christmas (When I’m Lovin’ You),” even though I used it in 2012, to honor Charles Bradley. That unconscionable folk song about a ski instructor whose notion of consent is such that you hope he perished in an avalanche, but not before being forced to eat his own arm while waiting in vain to be rescued, will just have to wait until the lucky 13th installment. I thought it important to keep each side to no more than, well, an hour.
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Yulemixed Messages: Presenting (the first half of) My 12th Annual Christmas Mixtape, Noel Means Noel

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I started making these goofy holiday-themed mixtapes in 2006, inspired by the yule-mixologist Andy Cirzan‘s annual appearances on the great WBEZ radio show and podcast Sound Opinions. I was honored to interview Andy for a Washington Post piece about my mixtape several years later, and to appear with him on a Minnesota Public Radio segment that I’m glad to tell you did not involve Garrison Keillor in any way.

So I’ve been collecting and compiling weird old Christmas-themed recordings for a long time now, but I didn’t buy a turntable until the latter part of 2016. I’d refused to even entertain the possibility of joining the vinyl resurgence, because I knew my discipline would crumble and I’d feel compelled to drain my banking account re-buying dozens of my favorite albums in the most expensive, space-consuming, fragile, and heavy music-distribution format ever conceived, with the possible exception of the wax cylinder. Which is exactly what happened. I have four working turntables in my apartment at this moment. Four. If I had any reasonable estimate of how many LPs there are, I would be too embarrassed to share that number with you.
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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.

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

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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.