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

 
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Tuesday, Aug 9, 2011
I could list several dozen songs that would be greatly lessened, if not unthinkable, without their saxophonic embellishment; so could you. In the interest of time and clarity, let's take three and call it a day.

A writer whom I respect recently made an offhand observation that I’d like to challenge—not because his opinion isn’t valid but rather because it seems representative of a casual and, I’d argue, uninformed impression shared by entirely too many folks.


Let’s name names: in his otherwise thoroughly enjoyable deconstruction of the monster hit “Frankenstein” by everyone’s favorite albino, Edgar Winters, Chuck Klosterman shares his feelings about the saxophone solo. He doesn’t dig it. In fact, he doesn’t dig the saxophone in rock songs. More, he doesn’t particularly dig the saxophone, period. Klosterman states, “I guess I’m just anti-saxophone; I feel like there were better options available. Certain extraneous instruments add more to rock songs than others, most notably the cello and the bagpipes.”


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Friday, Jul 29, 2011
Though the troubled UK singer seems to fit the bill for rock 'n' roll's fabled 27 Club, Amy Winehouse will almost surely face some resistance.

Music journalists, rock critics, and casual music historians like to tell stories. They like to frame narratives, paint parallels, and place our heroes into the framework they’ve invented. And though this is very much a part of the rock ‘n’ roll tradition, it’s foolish to assume the rock stars are knowingly playing along. The “27 club” is one such narrative, involving a curiously high number of rock ‘n’ roll legends whose mercurial brushes with glory crashed and burned at that early age. Through dozens of names from here and there have been tossed in, the club holds a select few “core members”: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and original Rolling Stone Brian Jones.


But why 27? Perhaps there’s something inherently dangerous and sexy about an artist, particularly a rock star, going out on top. Twenty-seven is a crooked number, with the artist old enough to have pumped out a classic, but young enough to have avoided the myriad trappings of the inevitable aging process. The club’s lineage can be loosely traced to pioneering bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in 1938 of a mysterious strychnine poisoning. Once Buddy Holly died less than two years into his rapid rise to fame (albeit not at 27), music fans, too, were introduced to the tragedy and legend of the dead rock star.


Tagged as: amy winehouse
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Thursday, Jul 14, 2011
Didn't Kurt Cobain perform as a teenage girl? If Nirvana did inspire an entire generation, then we really should be receiving Miley Cyrus' cover performances in a much more educated fashion than we are.

I will readily admit that I do not tend to keep up on much of anything that Miley Cyrus does. Her Twitter dis was too much for me to bear. Therefore, I was a bit surprised at myself for clicking on Stereogum‘s brief piece on her recent cover of “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz. (Hey, it was listed as one of the site’s “most commented” articles when I made that particular trip around the Internets. Whatevs.) In any case, while I was reading the article, I took the bait and searched out the apparently now-sort-of-(in)famous clip of Cyrus covering Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Dig the DIY footage below:




As should be expected, this performance elicited all kinds of caterwauling from the Nirvana faithful. The outcry is perhaps best captured in the comments to the TMZ post about Cyrus’s cover of the sacrosanct grunge anthem.


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Friday, Jun 17, 2011
Paul McCartney's effortless musical mastery (with no suffering artist gimmick) robs him of the serious consideration he deserves. But like literature and film's greatest auteurs, he will eventually undergo the Hitchcock / Shakespeare transformation from popular entertainer to century-defining artist.

In the year 2300, alien inhabitants will revere Paul McCartney in the same way Mozart and Beethoven are today. Paul McCartney is an artist of the first rank. The notion that he is talented yet slight (particularly in regards to his solo years) simply doesn’t exist except through the lens of Rolling Stone‘s post-Beatles breakup John Lennon worship. McCartney’s effortless mastery (with no suffering artist gimmick) robs him of the serious consideration he deserves.


Paul McCartney just isn’t hip. This week’s reviews of McCartney and McCartney II by Pitchfork are steeped in irony. The site gives the album that molded the entire sound of Pitchfork-branded indie of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s a 7.9; while a record that eclipses the presently hyped synthpop-chillwave fare received a 7.2. McCartney doesn’t get much love from the Rolling Stone old boys club either. An album like Ram is far better than the likes of the usual “top 10 album” mainstays like OK Computer and London Calling. Furthermore, Ram is the only solo Beatles album that maintains the impeccable standard of the ‘65-‘69 Beatles albums, a run that was largely orchestrated by McCartney. Argue whether Lennon or McCartney wrote better songs during this period if you must, but make no mistake: McCartney was the visionary behind every Beatles album starting with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.


Tagged as: paul mccartney
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Thursday, Jun 16, 2011
Lady Gaga preaches acceptance and love. However, her music videos teach that love is only for the beautiful.

With over one million copies sold in its first week and three top ten singles leading up to its release in the US alone, Lady Gaga’s new album Born This Way has become a cultural phenomenon, in which Gaga’s declaration of individuality leads all her little monsters to the glorious truth: I’m OK, you’re OK. Actually, we’re all fierce and fabulous. 


Last year’s media attention on bullying seemingly inspired a slew of affirmation songs (for instance, Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Taylor Swift’s “Mean”), but no one has embraced the self-acceptance theme with the fervor of the Lady. This pops up repeatedly throughout the new CD, nowhere more clearly in the title track, in which she advises, “Don’t hide yourself in regret / Just love yourself and you’re set.” Why? Because you were born that way, baby, whatever “way” that might be. A more personal plea comes in “Hair”: “I just wanna be myself / And I want you to love me for who I am.”


Tagged as: lady gaga
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