Quality Scribing 2009

Bronze medal: great story ideas, well executed.

Antonino D'Ambrosio: "The Bitter Tears of Johnny Cash"

(Salon, November 8, 2009)

Radio didn't want it and even his own label wanted to pretend that it didn't exist, but the Man in the Black insisted on writing songs about the plight of Native Americans, even taking out an ad in Billboard to plead his case. Eventually, he won the day, but he had to back down from his claims of having Indian blood himself.

Michael Arrington: "The Sorry State of Music Start Ups"

(Tech Crunch, March 27, 2009)

More precisely, it's the streaming music services that are in trouble, barely making any money and getting constant grief from the major labels supplying their music. The tiny profits that companies like Imeem generate ultimately mean that they can barely survive. The labels argue that they get little sales in return, but letting these streaming services fail means that they're giving consumers less ways to hear music, and that ain't gonna make consumers flock to buy more music. And mind you, this article chronicles the music scene months before these streaming services starting getting bought up near the end of the year.

Chris Ayers: "Revenge Is Best Served Cold -- on YouTube"

(Times Online, July 22, 2009)

United Airlines gets a lesson in customer service from one Dave Carroll, a Canadian country singer who made a name for himself after UA smashed his guitar not on stage, but by tossing it on a tarmac. Carroll made a humorous YouTube video about the incident which became a hit and he suddenly became an international star. Though Carroll surely misses his instrument, he certainly made the most of the incident.

Judith H. Dobrzynski: "Great Performances -- Behind the Scenes"

(Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2009)

A fascinating look at all the work and personnel that goes into a Metropolitan Opera performance -- the construction, rotating sets, the round-the-clock hours, the dress-makers, the wig-makers. Is it any wonder that opera ain't cheap? Just look at their overhead.

Ian Grey: "Music: The Perfect Prescription"

(Baltimore City Paper, April 22, 2009)

Though it misses out on Oliver Sacks's guidance and Daniel Johnston's experiences, it's quite a moving guide to the horrors of mental illness and how music can sometimes be a leveling force for it, including the writer's own struggles with manic-depression. Not to mention how he was saved by ELO.

John Gunders: "Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues Tradition"

(The Memes of Production, July 9, 2009)

An interesting take on musical myths. Why is Robert Johnson's work seen as more authentic than Bessie Smith? Maybe because it was less blatantly raunchy and not seen as a 'novelty', which didn't make it 'authentic blues'. Yeah, right...

David Hansen: "Papa John Phillips' Publicist Uses Daughter's Rape to Sell Albums"

(City Pages, September 25, 2009)

Normally, we can ignore most silly or stupid press releases, but Hansen is right to call this one out, which does exactly what the title here says. Surprisingly, the comments afterwards (including one from Dave Marsh) don't take the publicist to task, but instead hash over the sickening details of Phillips himself. There's no defending the guy, but the same is true for the exploitive PR guy (Howard Wuefling) too.

Douglas Heselgrave: "Leonard Cohen at the Isle of Wight"

(No Depression, November 24, 2009)

It's probably not one of the first things that come to mind when you think of the greatest rock concerts, but Heselgrave makes a convincing case that a weary Cohen wandered out on the stage to meet thousands of weary fans at an otherwise messy, disorganized festival and gave them a big aural hug, or at least a sympathetic shoulder to cry on.

Ben Lazar: "A Fake Lefsetz Letter on Springsteen and Bonnaroo"

(A Deeper Shade of Soul, February 3, 2009)

Finally, the sainted blowhard gets the roasting that he deserves. "Bruce doesn't sell tickets like he used to, and touring behind an album THAT NO ONE IS GOING TO CARE ABOUT, now he's going to play to a bunch of HIPPIES? Bruce doesn't even do drugs! I guess because his own audience just doesn't care like it used to, he and Landau think they have to find a new audience." And then ending with "this crap writes itself." Yes, but Lazar's own post is ten times shorter than the real jackass's work and has a lot less caps. Lazar is also a much better writer, and I wish that was more of a compliment.

Joel McIver: "Space Rock the Final Frontier: Sir Patrick Moore on Pop"

(Quietus, June 29, 2009)

A noted TV presenter/astronomer is confronted with space rock, including early Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Spiritualized... and the Supremes. His verdict: "All of these songs are nasty noises..." and "I wonder if any of these people could sing, even if someone showed them how to do it?" and "To my ear, all these songs are universally awful." He does answer some good layman questions about space, including what happens in a black hole (we don't know), what do we do when the sun burns out (move!), and what happened to the space race, moon exploration, and the Hubble telescope.

Marc Meyers: "John Coltrane: Naima"

(JazzWax, June 15, 2009)

Nice analysis, history, and context for a Trane classic, including the real-life inspiration behind the same, A.K.A. Trane's first wife, a woman who is pretty much a footnote in music history (compared to Alice Coltrane) but shouldn't be.

Libby Purves: "Why We Still Go Ga-Ga for Radio"

(Telegraph, January 31, 2009)

A lovely, poetic mediation on radio (UK radio to be exact) and its unending power to amaze, disgust, entertain, and bore us. And if you think it's just being sentimental, remember that broadcaster Rush Limbaugh is now the de facto leader of the GOP, and services like Pandora and Last.FM have been successful by making home users their own DJ.

Trent Raznor: "Strobe Light -- New Album"

(, April 1, 2009)

Along with 19 bucks for the album, fans are charged a "$10 digital delivery convenience fee" (just like Ticketmaster). You also get a free Gmail account (which is already free), plus "your email will be kept confidential and will not be used for spam, unless we can make some money selling it" (wonder which merchandiser he copied that from). The album's great, of course, with intro and outro skits, guest shots from Sheryl Crow ("Pussygrinder") and Fergie with Al from Ministry ("Laid, Paid and Played") and Timbaland producing (guess that's to even out for T's Twitter-slap at Chris Cornell). Note the date that this went online.

Jay Smooth: "Interview Doctrine: Rap Materialism and Racial Humility"

(YouTube, May 13, 2009)

Author Dan Charnas digs into the Asher Roth controversy over the frat rapper's dissing of other rappers' materialism. Charnas explains that Roth lacks the 'racial humlity' that the Beasties, 3rd Bass, Eminem, and other white rappers have shown, plus an unsettling distance that Roth sets up for himself apart from the rest of the rap field. As I learned in a drawn out Twitter discussion with Harry Allen, race and music isn't an easy subject to broach, but this needs to happen more often.

Louis Spector: "Life After the Verdict, or Is That Life Is the Verdict"

(MySpace blog, April 15, 2009)

When all brouhaha and court drama over Phil Spector's trial was going on, his son shared his thoughts and has some pretty mixed feelings. He doesn't deny his father's past, and doesn't even question the guilty verdict, and yet at the same time, he remains loyal to his dad. "I support the man. I do not support the crime or the defense." Later, he provides a chilling bit of family background that stretches beyond his dad: "My grandmother always told me that I was never and would never be a true Spector. Perhaps she was right, and after all... I care too much." Though this blog entry isn't available on his MySpace page anymore, his November 22nd posting about his family is also kind of gut-wrenching.

Giles Tremlett: "Spanish fan calls police over saxophone band who were just not jazzy enough"

(Guardian, December 9, 2009)

As Simon Vozick-Levinson said, "Shoulda called the Jazz Police!" More proof that they take jazz more seriously in Europe. Who'd complain about such a thing in the States (besides Wynton Marsalis)?

Bernard Van Isacker: "E-mail of the week - how NOT to try and grab the attention of a magazine"

(Side-Line, November 13, 2009)

"Do not ask for promo copies or downloads," warns a publicist after announcing a new release. "... as you know all journalists sell their promo copies on ebay..." Ah, such a sweet talker. But while "a review would be cool!!!!!!!", they warn that "if you don't (send a copy of your magazine), we don't allow you to publish the review..." Gotta be a joke, right? Making fun of clueless publicists, right? What if it isn't though? The way the music biz is going, maybe this is the wave of the future.

Ed Ward: "Beginning? Or End?"

(The Boston Phoenix, August 12, 2009)

With all of the news coverage beaming about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, it was obvious that most of it was pumped up by the press people who were really toasting related sales items: expanded DVD of the movie, box set of the soundtrack, and an Ang Lee movie. A backlash was inevitable, and one of the smarter ones in that area was by someone who wasn't there by his own admission. Yet Ward manages some worthwhile insights, like the false sense of entitlement that Woodstock gate-crashers had, and how that's similar to the kids who download music for free now. Also, some words of wisdom from funk-master George Clinton, who was there at Woodstock and hated it: "Everyone's always saying how Woodstock was the beginning. Hell, no! It was the end! ... Woodstock invented rock stars, man."

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