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Monday, Feb 15, 2010

Look at that guy. You know which one I’m talking about. You’ve got three surfer dude boys in the band and the frontman with the thousand yard smirk.


You know that guy. So do I. He’s the dude who always had a copy of the exam beforehand, always had a parent’s note (that he wrote) each time he was late for school. The guy that never kicked in for the keg then left the party with the best looking girl. The guy who would end up wearing his high school letter jacket after graduation, unless he happened to become a millionaire. And the big difference: that guy in your life doesn’t have the redeeming value of writing a transcendent pop song that gets inside of you like herpes simplex and never leaves. Doug Fieger was that guy. And now he’s gone.


Rest in peace, you rascal.


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Tuesday, Jan 19, 2010

When an entertainer dies, it’s always a strange event. Suddenly, millions of strangers mourn the passing of someone they never knew, simply because they made a few movies, starred in a TV show, or cut a few albums.


I never “got it”. Until a few days ago.


“The most devastating entertainment death of my life” was the text I sent to a friend when I heard of the death of Jay Lindsey, a.k.a. Jay Reatard. Only four days ago, early Wednesday morning, Jay Reatard, age 29, was found dead in his Memphis home. When I read the news late that night, it took a few seconds longer than usual to process what I was reading.


Jay Reatard was dead.


Tagged as: jay reatard
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Tuesday, Jan 5, 2010

The regrettable tendency for audiences when any great artist dies is to hear that person’s music in the past tense. Songs one used to be able to live in actively start to sound more like premonitions or epitaphs, rather than the vibrant, complex worlds that existed before their departure. Though not as widely known as Kurt Cobain or Elliott Smith, Vic Chesnutt’s recent death has already sent fans parsing through songs like “Supernatural”, “Florida”, and especially the recently penned “Flirted With You All My Life” for clues and foreshadowing of his apparent suicide. However, I hope against odds that this is avoided. For all of Chesnutt’s remarkable candidness and honesty in his writing, songs like those mentioned above shined not just as insight into his own mind, but through their craft, idiosyncrasy, and unique style, they succeeded at illuminating countless unarticulated thoughts and feelings in our own lives, whether dark, silly, crass, or poignant. And though Vic’s death has left an unfixable hole in the lives of friends, family, and fans, the truthfulness and relevance of his life’s work endures.


“Flirted With You All My Life”, for example, touches on experiences and people personal to Chesnutt, though I cry whenever I hear it not out of pity, or how it resonates with Vic’s death just months after its release, but out of sympathy and my own experiences with death. In light of his passing, I hope not to fix his songs as finite pieces of his life’s puzzle, but to allow them to continue to be borderless and timeless. In that spirit, I want to indulge in a few of my favorite memories involving Vic’s music, that continue to make me laugh and think, as much to celebrate what was and is, as to grieve what can no longer be.


Tagged as: vic chesnutt
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Thursday, Sep 10, 2009
Remembering Joe Maneri and Rashied Ali

You don’t have to be a jazz fan to appreciate that picture. But it helps.


Most people have never heard of Joe Maneri, so not too many folks are mourning the August 24 passing of this great musician. In addition to being a beloved teacher and father of jazz violinist Mat Maneri, he is rightly considered a pioneering figure in music. His inclusion of Turkish and Klezmer music into a more free jazz (think Ornette Coleman playing with one of Sun Ra’s bands covering traditional European music at a Greek orthodox wedding and you begin to get the picture) helped liberate and expand the possibilities of jazz improvisation. Like Coleman and Sun Ra, Maneri was an astute and original composer: his work is not immediately accessible, but patient ears quickly identify a very consistent logic and style.


Anyone who has seen the excellent American Splendor (a film celebrating the life of curmudgeonly comic book artist Harvey Pekar) has heard Maneri: his impossibly cool ”Paniots Nine” accompanies the opening credits. Pekar allegedly insisted that Maneri’s music be used, and this stands to reason as Pekar (himself a jazz critic) championed a largely obscure Maneri back in the ’90s. Indeed, it was John Zorn who helped release Paniots Nine (the title of the first track is also the title of the album), which makes all the sense in the world considering Zorn effectively took up Maneri’s baton in the ’80s and began cleverly integrating traditional Jewish music into his own compositions. It’s fair to say that Maneri, though lamentably overlooked for entirely too long, was the first major composer to actively bring those disparate elements and influences into free (but still swinging) jazz.


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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2009

Michael Jackson left us—all of us—the harmonies, melodies and complex beats to which he popped, dropped and locked it like a Dogon dancer in the plains and cliffs of Mali. One imagines that the little brown boy that visited Senegal with his folks in the early seventies left with more than artificial antiques. No sooner than he could debark from the plane, Michael danced with the people who assembled to sing and dance to welcome the Jackson 5 on their first trip to The Continent.


Yet, we fear this power and far too often demonize power out of fear. We fear the creativity and genius necessary to penetrate through a world where, for example, it really, really matters if you’re black or white.


All the children of the world should be
Lovin’ each other wholeheartedly!
Yes it’s alright,
Take my message to your brother and tell him twice.
Take the news to the marchin’ men
Who are killin’ their brothers, when death won’t do.
Yes, we’re all the same:
Yes the blood inside my veins is inside of you.



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