Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Thursday, May 21, 2009
by Robin Cook

Last autumn, this vidblogger caught Ha Ha Tonka’s stunning show at a Bloodshot Records showcase in Brooklyn. They didn’t disappoint in Austin, either.  Here, guitarist Brett Anderson talks a little about the band’s history. Ha Ha Tonka’s new album, Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South is out now.



Tagged as: ha ha tonka, sxsw
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The way that the films Notorious, 8 Mile, Walk The Line, and Ray lead up to scenes of performances shows the remarkable and subtle endurance of troubling racial stereotypes and ideals.

I’ve done a bad bad thing
Cut my brother in half

—Little Dewey Cox in Walk Hard


The new millenium has been kind to biopics of musicians. We have, most of us, seen the blockbusters, including Walk the Line, Ray, and Notorious, and these have been accompanied by more minor films like Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, Cadillac Records, and Jenna Maroney’s unforgettable Sing Them Blues, White Girl: The Jackie Jomp-Jomp Story. Some of the recurrent themes of these films, such as drug abuse, became so predictable that they were easily satirized in Walk Hard.


But in thinking about how these films diverge, after finally reaching the (somewhat confused) end of Notorious, I realized that in both the earlier film 8 Mile, the semi-fictional story of Eminem’s life, and in Walk the Line, the white performer comes to a moment of emotional overload that threatens his very ability to get on stage. In Cash’s case, this is because he is re-living his brother’s death; in Eminem’s case, it is because he has to face a hostile, mostly African-American crowd as a white rapper.


By contrast, in their respective films, neither Ray Charles nor Biggie experience this kind of stage fright. Instead, particularly in Notorious, there is an utterly natural transition from the private work of practicing and writing to the public arena of performance. This is even the case despite Ray’s having undergone, like Cash, the death of a brother while very young.


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Thursday, May 14, 2009
by PopMatters Staff
The Royal College of Music trained Jon Hopkins released his latest album Insides on Domino on May 5th and he tells us about his inspiration.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster. And when I saw Mulholland Drive for the second time.


2. The fictional character most like you?
Popeye.


3. The greatest album, ever?
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. Ridiculously beautiful psychadelic monster.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Neither actually. I quite liked Quantum Leap though.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Cam'ron brings the weird, the catchy and the bad with his latest album, Crime Pays.

When Cam’ron released “I Hate My Job” a number of months ago, I was very impressed, but as single after single from his latest album, Crime Pays, leaked (of course they weren’t real leaks), I held less and less hope for the the album. And then, yesterday, it came out, and it was about as strong as I could have hoped for, but with some real stand outs.


There was a lot of build-up for this album, but as it turns out, Cam’ron was just hyping the album with weird lies. It’s like when he claimed that “Killa Season” the movie was going to be a musical, it was most certainly not (I think there was one performed song in the movie). Cam’ron came out with some big talk - that none of the songs that had leaked (“Bottom of the Pussy Hole”, “I Hate My Job”) would be on the album (they are); that there would be no guest spots (there are); that he was going to release a video every week until the album came out (he didn’t). And so, what we get is another sort of good Cam’ron album.


It’s certainly better than Killa Season, as he’s gone away from the darker beats and has returned to some of his old playfulness, but it’s not what it could’ve been. I write this, but for me, Cam’ron is still the most exciting character/lyricist (I am not a lyrics purist or aficionado) in hip hop, but like a number of fans, I want Cam to return to his Purple Haze days.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Though I could not put a name to this queerness then, I knew that my ability to be free-to-be me was somehow connected to Michael Jackson’s ability to be free-to-be as bizarre as he wanted to be and still have people respect his life’s work.

I love Michael Jackson.  I would like to say that I appreciate his artistry, his mad song writing skills or his fantastic musical arrangements, all of which is certainly true. I would rather just say that I respect the sacrifices he and his family made for fame or fulfillingness’ first finale. For whatever reasons Joe and Katharine—sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson—did it, they discovered magic and/or cultivated it (most likely the latter with Tito!).  If you have ever been to Gary, Indiana you can imagine that it takes a surreal level of blood, sweat and tears for anyone, let alone a black family, to rise up out of that place. Mind you, I have never visited Gary, yet have passed by that old industrial city several times. My folks would regularly drive that route up I-65 between Louisville and Kenosha, Wisconsin to visit family. On the bypass around Gary, all my aunt would ever say is “Oh, that’s not on our way”, in response to my pleas to at least drive by the Jackson’s home, or at least see how the city has acknowledged its undoubtedly most famous offspring—or at least the ones most relevant to me. 


It was only years later that I understood that my folks just got in the habit of not stopping in any odd town along American highways, as a result of conditioning from segregation in the Jim and Jane Crow South—like so many of us, my folks hail from ‘Bama, hence real-life experiences with that chapter in American history are plentiful. It was forbidden and dangerous when they were younger to stop in unknown places. By my early teens, however, they had replaced aluminum-foil-wrapped fried chicken—no, not from that fast food chain, we fried our own and Colonel Sanders’, too—with a pit stop at Cracker Barrel. From the highway, Gary, Indiana looked mighty industrial, grey, dismal and virtually deserted. To me, Gary looked like one of those places that black people should avoid; it was clear that the Jackson family had more than a side order of We gotta get up out this place, behind some of those high “hee, hees”, snaps and slides across the floor.


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