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I can still remember the first time I heard Amy Winehouse sing. She was sound-checking for a TV show I was producing for Channel 4 in the UK, and it was to be her debut appearance. There she was: no make-up, wearing sloppy oversized white t-shirt and black-leggings, absentmindedly strumming a Fender guitar put through a tiny amp in a television studio while lighting engineers and floor-staff hustled around preparing for what would be that night’s filming. And because she was (a) unknown at that stage, and (b) demure, no one had even noticed her walk out onto the floor. There’d been no entourage, no drama; just little Amy Winehouse, shy as you like.

But then, seemingly without effort, she closed her eyes, tilted her head to one side and rolled out the opening line of what was to be her first single, “Stronger Than Me”. And I kid you not, everyone—and everything—just stopped, in sheer disbelief. The entire studio-floor, the control room—all the clanking and banging and cursing you get on set. Zip. And the craziest thing was she didn’t even look like she was trying. In that moment, I knew what people in books meant when they tried to explain hearing Elvis Presley or Mahalia Jackson or Marvin Gaye sing in chapel or around the place. Because some rare souls, it seems, are born blessed with the kind of voice to make you believe.

This past February, the chitlin circuit became a little less funky when one of its greatest performers died following complications from pneumonia. Marvin Sease, a native of Blackville, South Carolina, was 64 years old and only eight days short of his 65th birthday when he passed. He was originally a gospel singer and as is the case with many southern gospel singers, he made his way into secular R&B music. In 1986, Marvin Sease released his self-titled album which included the tune that would become his trademark for the remainder of his days, “Candy Licker”.

From that point on, Marvin Sease built a career and a cult following based on his racy and raunchy songs. He never saw even a portion of the mainstream success that some of his peers did. Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, and to a lesser extent, Bobby Rush all come to mind. Perhaps that’s something to be expected here though. With songs like “The Power of Coochie”, “Rather Be Licked”, “The Bitch Git It All”, and “I Ate The Whole Thang”, chances of getting radio play would have to be slim to none.

This hurts.

Of course jazz enthusiasts are a small if discerning bunch, so it’s unlikely the sudden passing of Billy Bang on April 11 will register as much as it should on the collective consciousness. This is a shame, but it can’t be helped. Those who knew Billy, and those who know and love his work, already miss him, and shall have to console ourselves that a great man has moved to the great beyond.

I fall back on what is, at this point, a somewhat formulaic observation, but I’m content to repeat it since it’s true: the death of any meaningful artist, particularly at a painfully young age (Bang was 63, which might not seem particularly painful or young to you, but it does to me, especially since as a working jazz musician he was still relevant, engaged, and important to music) is always difficult to endure, but we have little choice but to console ourselves with the work left behind.

What else to say about the early demise of LCD Soundsystem? The blogosphere already let the digital tears roll with eulogies ranging from the fantastically extensive to the cut-and-dry to, yes, remarks from the naysayers. For those who couldn’t make either the week-long victory lap at Terminal 5 or the final blow out at Madison Square Garden on April 2, setlists and reviews and videos abound. The show at MSG was as explosive and far-reaching as promised, a sea of black and white (and occasional spots of color from those who either didn’t get the memo or were too embarrassed to indulge in some fan-boy dress code respect) and palpable energy, even when James Murphy scrounged deeply into his pockets to pull out b-sides rarely or never heard live (“Freak Out/Starry Eyes”, anyone?).

But LCD Soundsystem was always tremendous live, so none of that should be any surprise. What is actually astonishing—not surprising, but really something to stand back and look at without the sense of irony that surrounds so much of our dialogue about indie music—is how this outpouring of love for the band reveals just how much LCD Soundsystem came to mean to so many people over a relatively short amount of time. It’s no real mystery how James Murphy pulled it off: he’s a damn good songwriter and a seemingly tireless workhorse, to boot. Still, how many bands in 2011 could call it quits and hear such an immense gasp of real sadness from every corner of the globe? We’re talking genuine emotion on the Internet, folks—and on a massive scale. Chew on that one for a second.

I heard it on NPR. “You might not know the singer”, Melissa Block announced.  “But you’d know that solo anywhere”.

The swelling saxophone filled my Dodge Caravan. I was driving home from work on a freezing Wednesday afternoon.  More precisely, I was sitting at the red light where the Alameda turns onto Solano Avenue.  From my vantage point I could see all the way to the coast, where the sun lowered into the sea. 

“Baker Street”, I said to the empty van.  “Gerry Rafferty”.

On this chilly, darkening afternoon driving in Berkeley, I piloted my van down the narrow street, carefully avoiding the pedestrians hurrying through the crosswalks, willfully oblivious to traffic as only Berkeleyans can be.  I wove around BMWs threatening to back into the street. A few stores still had Christmas lights up. Melissa Block announced Gerry Rafferty’s death.  He was 63 years old.  She mentioned “Right Down the Line”, and “Stuck in the Middle with You”, made notorious by Quentin Tarantino.  But I was not there.  I was back in Detroit, in my childhood home, where “Baker Street” played through most of 1978, that sax solo you’d recognize anywhere blaring through the custom speakers my father built in our basement.  He had in fact built the entire stereo system, save the Pioneer turntable.  Speakers, tweeters atop them (don’t ask me what they are or why he built them; all I know is they “boosted” the already impressive sound.), receiver, amplifier, pre-amplifier.  The stereo had to be turned on in order, starting with a light switch my father put on it’s own circuit for that purpose.  From there the order had to be followed or you would “blow up” the stereo system.  I could never remember the proper sequence and lived in fear of the stereo, which I never touched.

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Is Black Widow Still a Hero? Dissecting the Misogynistic Outrage Against the Avengers

// Short Ends and Leader

"Black Widow may very well be the pinnacle of the modern action heroine, so why is there so much backlash about her role in the new Avengers film?

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