November 30, 2008
A few weeks ago, biographer Charles R. Cross released his second book on Kurt Cobain. It’s a tangible, artistic approach to a memoir of a suicidal and genius soul. Not what would fall under an official biography, Cobain Unseen tells Cobain’s story as a reflection to the things he collected and the art he made.
Cobain Unseen introduces its audience to what diseased Cobain: several family suicides, poverty, heartbreak, Americana as a whole- but more importantly the creativity it born. Despite the dismal life he lead, Cobain anchored his spirits from an early age by writing in his diary, painting, sketching, and collecting thrift store items. The book tells a black, heart-wrenching tale parallel to old photographs and other physical items. Pages with pockets hold replicated loose-leaf pages of lyrics, a Thanksgiving Day greeting card, makeshift Nirvana stickers, and concert fliers.
Cross discovered Cobain’s treasures while researching Heavier Than Heaven (2001), the first Cobain biography he wrote. Soon after Cobain’s death all of his belongings were put into high-security storage, Courtney Love gave Cross permission to go through it. She told Cross, “If you’re going write about Kurt, you’d better read what he wrote about himself.” At first Cross was only allowed to view, but in 2002 he was granted permission to photograph the guts of the vault; guitars, t-shirts, porcelain doll heads, retro board games, paintings, and heart-shaped boxes.
More on Cobain’s Vault
November 29, 2008
The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood
1966 | Water
I’ve been listening to an awful lot of Lee Hazlewood these past few months, specifically The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood, after having gone my whole life having “never heard of him.” The words “never heard of him” belong in quotes because, at this point, your awareness of pop culture would have to equal that of, say a 90 year old Ukrainian peasant to be actually unaware of Hazlewood’s influence on music. The man is most easily recognized as the songwriter behind Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 smash “These Boots Are Made For Walkin,’” but also had several instrumental rock hits with Duane Eddy in the late 50’s, most notably the “Peter Gunn” theme.
So there: you have heard of Lee Hazlewood. And I had, too, but the average listener was only ever aware of Hazlewood through his association with “bigger” stars. Therein lies the problem with and charm of Hazlewood’s solo recordings. Here was the writer of a catalog of songs that arguably par that of contemporary Burt Bacharach, for whom in the studio money and resources were no object; but who’s solo material went largely unnoticed.
More on Record Review: The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood
November 28, 2008
She Hangs Brightly
1990 | Rough Trade
You and I probably have a few things in common. We press snooze on our alarm clocks when it rudely awakens us each weekday morning. We thrive and delight in the moment we get home and cozy up in our element, sanctifying ourselves from the vexation of the outside world. We take geeky pleasure in organizing our various cherished collections of media; our books, our magazines, our records, and our iTunes. If it turns out you and I do share these common characteristics, than you, like I, probably have your own temporal iTunes, where you have over time categorized all of your favorite albums into the moods and moments for which they are experienced best, like before bed, getting ready in the morning, when you’re angry at your significant other, etc. For me, the quintessential rainy-day album is Mazzy Star’s She Hangs Brightly, especially in those moments of basking in the warmth and dryness of your fortunate shelter. It’s something about the echoes of her syrupy voice, the long, drawling sound reverberations, and the Jesus and Mary Chain-come folk and blues elements that make this album feel like a massage and fuzzy slippers for the cerebral audiophile.
More on Mazzy Star: She Hangs Brightly
November 27, 2008
Songs for You, Truths for Me
2008 | Interscope
“Have we come this fa-fa-fa to find a soul cliché?” Elvis Costello once sang in exasperation. Yes, once again we have. James Morrison surely has the raspy voice a blue-eyed soul man needs, and a three-chord descent punctuates the end of every weary line. The piano, more Bruce Hornsby than Ian Stewart, chimes along as the singer yowls like he means it: “Y-o-u make it real for me.” The whole thing – vocals, lyrics, arrangement – is grindingly familiar, but that’s how soul music should be, right? It’s not about inventiveness; it’s about whether you feel it. No one ever accused Joe Cocker of being original. He sounded like Ray Charles, and that was fine.
More on Record Review: Songs for You, Truths for Me
November 26, 2008
For several years now, the Recording Industry of America has lobbied public and private universities to decrease music pirating by pressuring their student bodies and closely monitoring their computer networks. Shoot, back in January, the RIAA sent 407 pre-litigation letters to 18 universities that it deemed the most prone to music theft. Much of the RIAA’s focus on colleges comes from a 2007 Student Monitor survey. The college research group found that more than half of college students download copyrighted material.
More on Tennessee and RIAA allies with Campus Downloading Bill
Elvis Costello is known for many things. A patriarch of the British new wave movement, he helped keep Buddy Holly glasses rock n’roll, brought us astute observations in the form of meticulously crafted puns, and has even had his share of very public racist accusations, ala Morrissey and Lauryn Hill. In addition, on his run of the celebrity gambit, Costello will be hosting music-oriented talk show on the Sundance Channel titled Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… So far, the ellipsis is filled in with a range of exciting guests including indie-shmindies She & Him, Jenny Lewis and Rufus Wainwright, oldie but goodies Smokey Robinson, The Police, and Elton John (who happens to be the show’s executive producer), forefathers of cool Lou Reed and Herbie Hancock, mom’s favorites such as Tony Bennett and James Taylor, and Bill Clinton (sax, anyone?)!
More on “Spectacle: Elvis Costello With…”
November 25, 2008
Bang on a Can All Stars featuring Terry Riley
Live @ Le Poisson Rouge; New York, NY
November 8, 2008
Collectively, BOAC could claim to have the finger strength equivalent to an independent nation whose main industry is making Chinese fingertraps, (ultra-nimble fingers, my friends!). Fronted by Evan Ziporyn on baritone sax and clarinets, Bang on a Can All-Stars hatcheted out sounds choppy, abrupt, lush, opulent, and at times “new agey.” Without Terry Riley for the first half of the program, the jazz sextet that is Bang on a Can All-Stars bolted through wild aural orgies, and then conveyor-belted through a gentler tracks, such as, a number off of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.
BOAC’s music often could have accompanied a Lynchian scene where elderly people on the West coast are overzealously smiling in the back of a large town car a la the bright and foreboding opening scenes of Mulholland Drive. Robert Black, card-carrying member of the International Society of Bassists (ISB), stood redwood-strong in the center of the BOAC ensemble, wielding a stand-up bass, and Ning Yu, pianist, frenetically made sonic mincemeat under demure shades of red and blue.
More on Live Review: Terry Riley
November 23, 2008
And the winner of the $4,000 grand prize of the 5th Annual Williamsburg Live Songwriter Competition is Mr. Matthew Dorrien (pictured, middle)! In second place with a cool $750 is Ms. Rosi Golan (pictured, left). And in third place with $250 is Ms. Becca Stevens (pictured, right).
From 700 submissions, 150 were chosen to perform live over 8 nights at alternating venues in Williamsburg to an audience of fans, friends, and industry judges. From these 150, 18 advanced to the Semi-Finals on Friday night. From these 18, 9 advanced to the Finals last night. And from these 9, 3 were awarded with a cash prize.
If you’re turned off by “competition,” “cash prize,” or “first place,” let’s rewind: 700 people submitted a song to Jezebel Music, and 150 of them (149, minus the kid who was kicked out for drunken disorderly conduct on the opening night) came together to showcase their talent and make new friends and fans. It cannot be said enough: there is only one grand prize winner of the WLSC. Although it is an entertaining and appealing aspect of the event, the WLSC is best enjoyed when “prize” and “winning” and “competition” are stricken from our mindset. These things are simply a noble ploy to gather inordinately talented songwriters together under one metaphorically collective roof.
What happens when you get 150 musicians together in one place? Friendships, fans, collaborations, networks, and a damn good time are imminent. As Michael Grubbs – our esteemed host – has humorously reminded us, $4,000 can pay your rent in Williamsburg for only a month. Exaggeration aside, money is temporary, but the contestants who have performed live in the WLSC2008 have directly participated in the making of an absolutely incredible week of music in one of the most diverse, talented music communities in the entire world. If just one person heard their song, one person went to their MySpace the next day, one person asked to join their mailing list, one person said “hey, you sounded great!” – they won. And trust me, there were many winners!
Thank you to all who have submitted, performed, and made possible the 5th Annual Williamsburg Live Songwriter Competition!
We will see you next year!
Go here to see photos from the WLSC2008!
All images copyright Jen McManus 2008