Super Scribing

Laura Barton: “Hail, Hail, Rock’n’Roll

(The Guardian, October 19, 2007)

Easy target that it is, she still wonderfully rips into pieces that horrible modern-day diva trait of over-singing and puts together a convincing list of brief but poignant shouts/grunts/wails heard in great songs as an alternative. She ropes in Billie Holiday, Iggy Pop, the White Stripes and Rod Stewart. But where’s James Brown?

Yvonne Bynoe: “Hip-Hop’s (Still) Invisible Women

(AlterNet, May 16, 2007)

One of the smartest analyses in the wake of the Don Imus scandal (“when stupid people say stupid things, only stupid people are surprised” — Rory O’Connor, Alternet). Not just a call to arms, but also some intriguing ideas about how to move forward, including a hip-hop Lilith Fair (something that’s long overdue).

Laskshmi Chaudhry: “The Diana/Whore Complex

(The Nation, August 9, 2007)

With all of the anniversary toasts to Princess Diana, this was the most sober and thought-provoking one, not only because it explains our fascination with the “people’s princess”, but also because it helps illuminate why we’re so fascinated with Britney, Paris, Lindsay and other pop train-wrecks. Hint: we love to see them all suffer and fail in some way.

Cory Doctorow: “Why Is Hollywood Making a Sequel to the Napster Wars?

(Information Week, August 10th, 2007)

Laying out the cold hard facts that the celluloid business is about to make the same mistake as the music business by trying to destroy YouTube, Doctorow explains: “It’s been eight years since Sean Fanning created Napster in his college dorm room. Eight years later, there isn’t a single authorized music service that can compete with the original Napster. Record sales are down every year, and digital music sales aren’t filling in the crater. The record industry has contracted to four companies, and it may soon be three…” So it stands to reason that if the music biz STILL doesn’t get it, another branch of the entertainment industry is gonna make the same mistakes. And suffer for it too.

Patrick Goldstein: “The Big Picture (L.A. Observed, July 24, 2007)

It’s a shame and a surprise that a stalwart publication like the Los Angeles Times would kill an article like this. Maybe they thought that Goldstein’s pinpoint linkage of the problems facing the publishing and music industries hit a little too close to home, especially as he suggested that the idea of freebies might not be so bad after all. History’s gonna absolve him of course but isn’t it a shame that too many publications are scared to face the hard truths now?

Mark Greif: “The Right Kind of Pain

(London Review of Books, March 22, 2007)

An epic review of a Velvet Underground book, this piece is a pretty ho-hum history until about half-way through where Greif takes up laudable comparisons with the seemingly unkindred spirits of the Grateful Dead and delves into John Cale’s contributions to the band (a subject that still deserves further exploration).

Peter Guralnick: “How Did Elvis Get Turned into a Racist?

(New York Times, August 11, 2007)

A very sober, moving piece that should pretty much put to rest the lie to a cloud that’s been ignorantly cast over Presley for years. Even Chuck D admits that he didn’t have it right when he called him out in song. What more do you want?

Kurt Hanson: “Can the Music Industry Sue Its Way to Profit?

(Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2007)

Of course not, but after an RIAA industry shill admits that he hates the Internet, publisher Hanson goes to town, tearing down one false claim after another about the scourge and scapegoating of downloading. Favorite part: his story about an overly proud industry refusing various lifesavers and then confused as he faces final judgment, wondering “‘Why didn’t you take care of me?’ Sayeth the Almighty: ‘What?!? I sent you iPods, download sales, and Internet radio!'”

Rob Harvilla: “Hot Hot Heat

(Village Voice, March 13, 2007)

A brilliant, “scientific” dissection of Mim’s hit “This Is Why I’m Hot”, including fly/hot ratios, “are you hot?” flow-charts and other figures for comparisons. It’s almost too good for the Experience Music Project conference.

David Kamp: “Sly Stone’s Higher Power

(Vanity Fair, August 2007)

Not even the fake re-emergence of Captain Beefheart (already the source of a great, recent April Fool’s prank) could top the mother of all ’07 scoops here. Maybe not so odd that even getting Sly on the record after a quarter century, this still doesn’t clear up a lot of questions. He’s tantalizing, frustrating, unrepentant, bizarre, Dylanesque and above all, sly, not to mention Sly, as he proved yet again with his live shows late in the year. Yet another piece to a strange epic story that will no doubt one day make it to the big screen and will no doubt have to be scrubbed down ’cause sometimes, fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

Dana Kletter: “Éminence Grise

(Boston Phoenix, March 27, 2007)

As much as Joe Boyd deserves to be toasted in lieu of his recent musical autobiography White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, it takes a relatively unknown musician who worked with him to pin down his place in history beyond the usual clichés. Lazy writers usually peg Boyd to the title character of Woody Allen’s Zelig, which would mean that he was a human chameleon with an identity crisis where Kletter more accurately sees him as Carl Van Vechten, polar figure of the Harlem Renaissance who helped make miraculous things around him happen.

David Kushner: “LinkinPark’s Mysetrious Cyberstalker

(Wired, May 15, 2007)

A great and frightening piece of journalism, examining in detail how a ‘fan’ terrorized a rock star by using too-easily-obtainable online information about him. Since said star can easily afford security measures to erect barriers between him and potential nut-bags like this and easily fail, how safe does that make the rest of us?

Chris Pasels: “Writers’ Block

(Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2007)

This might be one of the most laudable columns written this year. In it, Pasels describes various successful survival methods for modern composers: “So what’s an ambitious composer to do? In fact, conversations with several dozen suggest a variety of strategies. Some are forming ensembles. Others are starting festivals, webcasting or setting up streaming audio sites. And just about everyone has found an alternative way to pay the bills. The only thing that’s certain is that waiting for a cloudburst of opportunities is not an option.” How often does a good writer go beyond reporting problems and actually collect some good, practical solutions? Answer… not often enough.

Ben Ratliff and Alex Ross: “Let Us Leave Our Musical Islands

(Slate, November 4, 2007)

In an inspired pairing, the New York Times jazz maven has a chat with the New Yorker‘s classical maven to figure out why their favorite genres don’t stir up the interest they once did. They don’t chastise the artists or the composers and don’t come up with any definitive answers, but they do find some intriguing questions to ponder. Ross: “All the performing arts face the same challenge. Any art form that requires people to go out in the evenings, take a seat, and watch people doing something arty onstage is certain to have worries about declining audiences, aging audiences, fundraising, etc.”

Sarah Rodman: “Policing of Rap Lyrics Is Near-Impossible Task

(Boston Globe,April 25, 2007)

In the wake of the Don Imus controversy and the aftermath, namely the crack-down on rap, here was one of the smartest editorials. Rodman looks at the larger picture and not only sees that rap is being a scapegoat, but also that sexism and/or racism is more pervasive than we’d like to think. Regarding Russell Simmons’ call to voluntarily ban on a trio of words, “the three words in question are hurtful, desensitizing, and, from a songwriting standpoint, unimaginative and lazy. Having been called all three of them, I know they can sting and would be thrilled to have them go away. But if we start arbitrarily outlawing certain words, where do we stop?” And of course, anyone who does advocate bans won’t (and can’t) give you a straight answer to that question.

Alex Ross: “Reality Check

(The Rest Is Noise blog, April 3, 2007)

No pontificating or op-ed grand-standing, but a detailed and thorough rebuke to the old saw that classical music is dying, all made just by presenting a list of facts and figures. His conclusion: “The major labels are much smaller than they used to be. But classical recording is bigger than ever.”

Oliver Sacks: “The Abyss

(The New Yorker, September 27, 2007)

The story of Clive Wearing’s amnesia is heart-breaking as he can’t keep any new memories and lives in a frightening ever-present where he has to constantly adjust to his surroundings. And yet he comes alive and seems to transcend his illness once he’s seated at a piano and somehow finds the ability to play. As such, Sacks finds that Wearing’s illness may hold clues as to how we all experience and remember music.

David Swerdlick: “Six Degrees of Beyoncefication

(Creative Loafing, January 3, 2007)

Not only tracing all the connections between Dreamgirlsand various real-life connections, but also tracing Beyoncé’s success as the ultimate diva now. “JLo can’t sing, Jessica Simpson can’t act, and Mary J.Blige is too black. Sure, Beyoncé has the gift of her looks and talent, but even that can’t fully account for her star power. She has managed to stay above the tabloid fray and revealed just enough of herself (and held back just enough) to become a spokesmodel for a 21st century hip-hop fantasy.”

Carl Wilson: “The Trouble With Indie Rock

(Slate, October 18, 2007)

As the blogosphere, mailing lists and newsgroups filled up with heated arguments over Sasha Frere-Jones’ half-baked New Yorker piece (see Bottom of the Barrel section), this was by far the best, most thoughtful response. Not only does Wilson parse out some worthwhile things in the article, but he also nails what’s off-base or just plain wrong about it too and shifts the argument to class conflict. If only the editor of the original piece had as much smarts as Wilson. For a contrary view to this contrary view, there was Paul26’s response to Wilson and Frere-Jones (Fetishizingauthenticity), saying that they both squeezed the life out of music by trying to stuff it into sociological boxes.

Steve Winn: “Basichumanity of the arts world — we hope — transcends race

(San Francisco Chronicle, June 6, 2007)

When is prejudice really prejudice in the arts? Winn doesn’t know and but he’s wise enough to realize that no one else really knows for sure always. “The more we talk about race, it sometimes seems, the less we understand its almost infinite manifestations and nuanced gradations.” In other words, it’s not all black and white, so to speak and at worst, “… at some fundamental level we really can’t talk about it at all.” Not yet but some day, at least we hope that we can…