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Wednesday, Jan 25, 2012
Etta James was memorialized before she died, and it illustrates a new and common plight among older artists.

Etta James died last Friday, and the outpouring of praise and tributes came as usual. That’s not to say she wasn’t deserving of the various titles that came up, like Jerry Wexler’s famous coronation “the greatest of all modern blues singers”. But for James, she’d been hearing it for a while, and for someone like her, it was quite a thing to be memorialized before she felt she was done.


Despite recording some of the most indelible, iconic R&B tracks of the 1950s and ‘60s, James never achieved the same level of fame or recognition that some of her peers did. She consistently charted on the R&B charts and remained a top concert draw, but crossover success eluded her; she never became an Aretha Franklin or Diana Ross. Not that her disposition and habits would have let her—James lost good portions of her career to her drug habit, and her forceful personality would prove as much a drawback as an asset.


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Tuesday, Jan 10, 2012
By hiring Wynton Marsalis as its new "cultural correspondent", CBS is setting jazz music back, and it's everybody's loss.

On January 16, Wynton Marsalis will make his debut as CBS’ newest cultural correspondent. Ostensibly, this move makes sense: Marsalis is one of jazz’s most visible figures, and has had a successful tenure as the artistic director of the New York City-based Lincoln Center’s jazz program. Marsalis is a genuine virtuoso, and he’s an eloquent, engaging speaker as well.


But this is a terrible idea. It’s bad for jazz as an art form, and it’s bad for the public. The only people it’s not bad for are Marsalis and CBS, who both stand to profit handsomely: CBS for having someone as “hip” as Marsalis as a correspondent, and Marsalis for furthering his own cult of personality.


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Tuesday, Dec 13, 2011
Guns N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just last week--but not fellow ballot finalist the Cure. Here's why goth's flagship group deserved to join them.

Last week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the winning inductees this year from a 15-name strong ballot.  So congratulations are in order for rock icons Guns N’ Roses (a major band, if overrated), Red Hot Chili Peppers (quite underrated, given its accomplishments), Beastie Boys (the Hall never followed the strictest definition for the rock genre, but it’s a bit late to backtrack now and the Beasties are certainly musical heavyweights who have stronger rock credentials than most hip-hop acts), Donovan (ok, we’ll mark this as a pass for a few cracking singles), Laura Nyro (uh . . . really?), and the Small Faces/the Faces (these aren’t the same band, people . . .).  Just as notable are the names that weren’t voted in, which include Heart, War, Donna Summer (whom you’ll hear about in detail tomorrow here at Sound Affects), and the most important proper rock band that didn’t make the cut in 2011: the Cure.


Why is the fact that the Cure only made the ballot this year after years of eligibility an egregious snub to be filed among the baffling ranks of current Hall non-inductees that range from Kiss to Donna Summer to the Smiths?  Ok, the long-running British group (led by Robert Smith, its only consistent member) was by no means the first post-punk band or even the most influential, and Bauhaus created and defined goth, the genre the Cure is most associated with.  What makes the Cure worthy enough to belong to alongside the ranks of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and U2 is a combination of trailblazing inroads into the musical mainstream, an extensive influence over later musicians, and a diverse body of songs that could’ve formed the basis of the careers of four or five lesser groups.


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Tuesday, Nov 22, 2011
Isn't this recently-reformed rock group the same band that, apparently, just lied to its disciples about the possibility of a reunion?

I will preface everything that you are about to read by saying that I have never missed an opportunity to express my love for the Stone Roses. However, as time has passed, and as I have continued, ceaselessly, making that admission, I have come to realize that what I mean to say is that I love The Stone Roses. That 1989 album is one of those I’ll-never-forget-the-first-time-that-I-heard-it records, one of those rare expressions of artistic prowess that still makes me utter sycophantic non sequiturs like, “If I could play the drums like Reni, I’d never leave my house.” And while I genuinely do not possess the cultural perspective to say whether or not it is the greatest British album ever, I do agree with Noel Gallagher that The Stone Roses is perfect.


I submit all of this to you as a means to contextualize my growing ambivalence about the band’s upcoming reunion shows in 2012. When I first heard the news that the group (which disbanded in 1996) was reuniting, I genuinely rejoiced. The possibility—no matter how remote—of seeing the band perform any track from their debut album in concert was enough to make me want to take out a second mortgage just to score tickets off of some auction website somewhere (my Internet connection not being powerful enough to elbow the rest of the world off of the official ticket site). But then, the knowledge that thousands upon thousands of tickets to the band’s resurrection would sell in about the same time as a Catholic mass left me questioning my faith. “What, exactly, am I buying into?”, I wondered. “Isn’t this the same band that, apparently, just lied to its disciples about the possibility of a reunion? Why should I make any donations to their decidedly corrupt church?”


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Thursday, Sep 29, 2011
An album is not an insulated document, but rather something that breathes and grows within an artist's discography. I challenge music fans to not simply find songs or albums that they like (though certainly that has a completely worthwhile place), but to find entire discographies (from acknowledged classics to forgotten albums) to grow with over time.

Several weeks ago, my article “Paul McCartney: An Auteur” caused quite a stir. In that piece, I attempt to position Paul McCartney as an artist of the highest standard, one whose entire body of work must be taken seriously. Many of the comments I received criticized my lack of reasoning and found fault in positioning McCartney as a man who can do no wrong. I also received some feedback asserting that the Auteur Theory can only be applied to film due to the director’s position within a system of producers, screenwriters, actors, etc. The reasoning behind rejecting auteurism in music: it is laudatory that a director working within a Hollywood studio system would be able to consistently leave a personal stamp on each of his films, but what is so impressive about a musician placing a personal stamp on his/her solo albums? This logic is sound; however, I wish to apply another aspect of the theory to music. Instead of using auteurism in the sense of a distinct creative vision persevering through studio interference, I believe it can apply to music in the way it forces an audience to evaluate an artist’s entire output.


Without this theory in place, I may not have been aware of many “lesser” films by great filmmakers. I recently viewed Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York. Based on its disappointing box office returns and lukewarm reviews, one would think this was a poorly received, self-indulgent, and anachronistic musical not worth watching. Rather than approaching it as a stand-alone film, auteurism forces us to perceive it as part of something greater: an important step in the development of a filmic genius. Placed in its proper context as the coked-out, artificially retro experiment between Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, New York, New York becomes a must-see.


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