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

 
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Wednesday, Dec 14, 2011
Icon, music innovator, and trailblazing artist: Donna Summer epitomizes what rock and roll is all about, and that's why she belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The announcement of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) nominees is a perennial litmus test for the world of music criticism. Who will rush to defend or dismiss the nominees? Will the nominated artists be subject to snarky one-liners, or accorded thoughtful analysis about why they merit a nomination in the first place?


When the RRHOF narrows the list from nominees to inductees, applause rings as loud as groans of disappointment. However, there’s a large distinction between educated dissenters and willfully ignorant misanthropes. Ironically, the endless well of information that is available in Wikipedia-dominated cyberspace presents a conundrum: history is re-written incorrectly, then copied and pasted ad infinitum. Key information is mysteriously omitted, facts are blurred. In the blogosphere, the race to author the wittiest remark has rendered fact-checking obsolete. This could only explain the sentiment behind a comment I read in an online discussion about the RRHOF’s Class of 2012. While many commentators maintained that Donna Summer should have made the cut this year, one site visitor wrote, “Donna Summer… Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… I don’t see the connection.”


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Wednesday, Dec 7, 2011
While jazz’s complexity cannot be denied, much of the music remains accessible to all. The trick is just finding the right tunes and artists, those who have a universal appeal beyond the scope of the typical, admittedly somewhat limited, jazz audience.

Jazz music began as a popular art form. From its origins in the streets, bars, and brothels of the American South to the speakeasies of Prohibition-era Chicago to the dance floors of Middle America during the big band era, jazz successfully injected the masses with the infectious spirit of swing. After World War II, though, a major shift occurred in America’s beloved music. The innovations of New York musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie would be codified into the style known as bebop, one that emphasized angular melodies, complex rhythms, and virtuoso solos. The music’s primary venue then shifted from the dance floor to the jazz club, and big bands were replaced by small combos. In effect, jazz transformed itself from pop music into art music. Bebop was embraced not by the masses, but rather by a smaller group of devoted followers, including the urbane beatniks (protohipsters, if you will), who found inspiration in the music’s spontaneity and spirit of freedom.


In the post-bop era, the perception of many is that jazz is an elusive music, one that requires lots of “insider” knowledge to appreciate. While jazz’s complexity cannot be denied, much of the music remains accessible to all. The trick is just finding the right tunes and artists, those who have a universal appeal beyond the scope of the typical—admittedly somewhat limited—jazz audience. Below you will find my list of 10 jazz tracks for people who typically don’t like the form. Each of these songs has a strong emotional appeal. While they are all technically brilliant, they never lose the heart and soul amongst the musical intricacy. Many of these tracks are considered foundational to the “jazz canon”, that collection of tunes almost universally agreed upon as among the best work the genre has ever produced. These songs will serve as a “nonthreatening” introduction for those who have been avoiding jazz like the plague or haven’t listened to the music in some time.


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Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011
After soundtracking a bit of Twilight: New Moon and releasing a lovely new record earlier this year, Hurricane Bells' Steve Schiltz takes us through his top five favorite albums of all-time, all while wondering why more kids don't love the Edge . . .

It’s been an interesting ride for Hurricane Bells’ Steve Schiltz. The man rose to prominence for fronting the underrated NYC guitar-rock act Longwave, but once Schiltz began branching out on his own for his more acoustic-based side project Hurricane Bells, a b-side from his project’s debut album, “Monsters”, wound up getting on the soundtrack to the second Twilight movie. Suddenly Hurricane Bells was more well known than Longwave ever was, even if the song was nowhere near indicative of the cathartic content of his newer project’s’ sound.


Just as 2011 wrapped up, Schiltz could proudly look back on what he accomplished: following the release of the solid Down Comes the Rain EP in late 2010, Schiltz went back and revamped his sound for this year’s Tides and Tales, a much more sonically dense, expansive album than his debut Tonight is the Ghost was. With Tides, not only do we see Schiltz expanding his musical palette, but we also get to see him really come into his own as a songwriter for Hurricane Bells: each band now has their own unique, distinctive sound, even if they do come from the same mind.


To help cap off his triumphant year, Schiltz sat down with PopMatters to reveal his top five favorite records of all time, explaining why these discs had a great influence on him in the way that they did, all while he muses as to why more kids aren’t a fan of the Edge . . .


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Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011
In this third and final installment of Sound Affects' retrospective of music videos from the 1980s, we focus on 20 promos that the passage of time has been especially unkind to.

The late 1970s saw the advent of cable television and dance clubs, introducing outlets for an emerging hybrid of music and film at a time when the DIY culture that enveloped punk and New Wave encouraged experimentation. Visually inventive artists such as Devo, Laurie Anderson, and Talking Heads were among the first to recognize video as a medium to make a statement, creating pieces that could stand on their own as serious works of performance art. Visually inventive and photogenic artists such as Duran Duran, the Human League, ABC, and Adam Ant would also create arresting pieces that have stood the test of time.


But as we noted in our previous entry in this ‘80s-theme List This series, with innovation and experimentation comes the risk of rapid obsolescence. This week’s list looks at a collection of video clips from the decade that have not aged well, bearing a distinctive look that instantly tags the work as a product of their time.


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Wednesday, Nov 23, 2011
Washington, DC, punk heroes Fugazi called it quits 10 years ago, but the band's legacy as the finest of its generation remains untouched. A Herculean task, sure, but here we go: narrowing down Fugazi's catalog to its finest 10 moments.

It’s been ten years since we last heard from peerless punk legends Fugazi. The Washington, DC, group released its final album, The Argument on October 21st, 2001; a year later, Fugazi announced its indefinite hiatus from making new music and touring. Though the band would be the last to say so, its dissolution marked the end of an era—not only in punk rock, but in the world of rock music, period. Of course, touches of the band’s sound still show up in many of this year’s most celebrated independent acts: the politicized funk of tUnE-yArDs, the barked vocals and taste for anthemics of WU LYF, the floor-tom, power-chord rush of Wild Flag. But there will never be another band quite like Fugazi.


Formed in late 1987, Fugazi came from a storied punk lineage. Ian MacKaye, of hardcore heroes Minor Threat and emocore pioneers Embrace, recruited bassist Joe Lally and (after a brief stint with Colin Sears of Dag Nasty) drummer Brendan Canty for a new, dub-influenced group. Canty had previously played in the short-lived, fast-burning Rites of Spring, a band led by caterwauling vocalist Guy Picciotto. Picciotto soon found a place in this new ensemble, Fugazi, as a backing vocalist. A year later, wanting to be more directly involved in songwriting, Picciotto joined MacKaye as a guitarist, solidifying Fugazi’s line-up.


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