Friday, December 31, 2004

Revolution Rock

From the always-informative "The Brazilian Muse" I found this short article from The Morning News placing Tropicalia in the context of other Latin American protest music of the 1960s and early 1970s. Some factual errors, I'm told, but the big-picture aspect of the story makes it a nice intro to the subject. There's a section on the Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa, for instance; I've only heard one song of hers ("Gracias a mi Vida"), but I'm intrigued enough by that one to want to hear more. Strikes me as a cross between Joan Baez and Cesaria Evora, or something along those lines: big, rich voice, hyper-dramatic. And from what little I know of her life story, there's drama aplenty for her to draw upon. Anybody familiar enough with her work to suggest other places to turn?

PS. Speaking of life stories, the muse of "Brazilian Muse" devotes a recent entry to tracing how Brazilian music entered hers. Boy, can I ever relate to so very many parts of it.

PPS. One line in the Morning News story kind of backfired. Reading the sentence "While Olivia Newton-John’s 'Let Me Be There' wafted over radios throughout the United States, in Chile a U.S.-backed coup toppled Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Popular Unity socialist, and launched Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power," I suddenly found myself straying far from thoughts of Allende and Victor Jara and taking my own personal trip down memory lane. Ah, Olivia... I confess, no matter how many Pere Ubu and Aphex Twin albums you'll find in my album collection, I have a major soft spot for mid70s soft rock. Suddenly I really want to hear ON-J... Pronto! That's not what the author had in mind, I know, but when you mention "Let Me Be There" or "Have You Never Been Mellow," I .... hell, I can't get it out of my head.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Surfin' USA

Rather than actually doing any of the million items on my to-do list last night, I spent a little time trawling some of the MP3 blogs listed at Mangos and Mandolins (see below) in search of music I didn't know I was looking for.

*At M&M itself I found 2 songs by the short-lived but influential Brazilian jazz combo Quarteto Novo. While I enjoyed parts of each, I'm gonna cite these as a case where the blogger's description is more appealing to me than the music itself.

*From Copy, Right?, a bunch of Christmas odds and ends, including … a crazy Luscious Jackson-y version of "Here Comes Santa Claus" (billed as "White Christmas") by a Japanese band called Melt Banana; Sufjan Stevens' lo-fi cover of "O Holy Night" (he's a guy my pal Brian has been talking up); Pond's "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" (possibly the nicest of this particular batch, though no match for Hugo Largo's angelic version); Coldplay's piano-driven cover of the Pretenders' "2000 Miles" (the original of which may be one of the best modern-day Christmas songs since Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for ..."), and Ivy's faux-vintage version of "Christmastime is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

*From Aurgasm, another little morsel to satisfy my recent Sigur Rós cravings. There's actually quite a bit more here at the moment that I want to sample, including tracks by 4Hero, Carlos Vives, Plaid, and a guy called The Gay Pimp. I really like the writing at this site, as well as the range of music explored. Gotta be checking this one out more regularly.

*From Fluxblog (which, disappointingly but not-so-disappointingly, seems to have nothing to do with Fluxus), a couple of items that, once again, sounded more interesting in words than I actually found them when I heard them: an incomprehsible Kenny Loggins cover/ripoff by a dancehall band called Elephant Man and a new song by The Kills (whose singer, praised by the blogger, sounds just like P. J. Harvey to me). I should probably head back there soon, because there are several Christmas novelties I'd like to check out (including a parody of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and a version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" replacing the various "gold rings" and "lords a-leaping" with advertising soundbites).

FYI, if you want to hear any of the above in the places I've mentioned, you'll need to visit the sites immediately, since they'll all be gone within a few days. Sort of like a Brigadoon of MP3s.

*My last stop of the night was the amazing UbuWeb, which is not a fan-run MP3 site but an online archive of poetry and sound-art from throughout the 20th century, maintained by folks just down the street from me at SUNY Buffalo. I've been on a spoken-word kick in the car lately--I'm in the middle of a 2-disc Howard Zinn lecture, which is only so-so, and the 3-disc Daily Show audio version of America: The Book, which is so smart and funny that I totally understand why the book is so phenomenally popular--so at UbuWeb I picked up clips of Frank O'Hara, Ed Sanders, and Patti Smith. The first two items were historically fascinating, but the Patti performance was easily the most wondrous find of the evening. "The Histories of the Universe" was recorded in 1975, back when she was mainly a poet, and her ongoing project of the day was a rambling spoken/sung composition called "Seven Ways of Going." Now that she's sort of evolved into the elder statesman of punk (while remaining incredibly vital; her live shows these days are beyond compare), it's easy to forget that she was once a giggly but amazingly savvy performer on the East Village poetry scene. Listening to this live recording, you can imagine yourself in the audience of St. Mark's Church in the mid70s, stumbling upon a skinny young woman who is part standup comic, part scholar, part beat poet, part space case, and god knows what else.

And so: my apologies to everyone to whom I owe a holiday card, a press release, an article, or anything else. Sometimes a fella's gotta do what a fella's gotta do.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

New Kid in Town

Thanks to the list of referring websites at the bottom of this page, I just discovered Mangos and Mandolins, a brand-new and tremendously exciting blog which covers "Music from Appalachia to Brazil, with Plenty of Detours." It's only five entries now, but those five discuss Caetano and Tom Ze, both of whom you just know I like, along with two artists I've never heard of Bruce Molksy and the Wayfaring Strangers, both of whom you can be sure I'm gonna check out. The writing is informative and intriguing, and as an added bonus there are MP3s of selected songs (for a limited time only).

Very, very exciting.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


I actually finished reading Tropical Truth a few weeks ago, but it's been sitting here on my desk ever since, to remind me to quote this line, which I came across shortly after Election Day, when one U.S. state after another voted to ban gay marriage:

"It is no accident that homosexuality is under fire from totalitarian states--even those under construction--and from the nostalgia for a time of absolute social control."

It's uncanny how many of Caetano's comments about Brazil under military dictatorship in the late 1960s seem relevant to my own place and time. Oh, and the line just before that one is pretty provocative, too:

"Offering the ideal model for the conflict between the authentic and the dissimulated, but unamenable to being framed in terms of the perversions that imply a crime or denial of someone else's freedom, homosexuality clearly posed the fundamental question concerning human sexuality, and thus the very freedom of the individual."

Okay, I challenge anyone to name a male singer from the States who would devote most of a chapter of his memoir to a theoretical/political analysis of his own bisexuality, particularly in such dense language (at least in translation). Much as I'm looking forward to reading Dylan's Chronicles, I just don't think I'm gonna find anything quite like this there.

Speaking of musicians' memoirs, after I finished Veloso's book I picked up Brother Ray, Ray Charles' autobiography, again (bought it right after he died as research for an article I was writing about him, but only skimmed it at the time). I wanted to finish it before seeing the new movie Ray, but I only made it through about half the book (much of which does not appear in the film, sadly enough) before I ended up at the movie. I know the film is getting rave reviews, but compared to the book, it's a total soap opera; what's so great about Brother Ray is its matter-of-fact tone about sex (god, what a potty mouth that man had!), drugs, racism, blindness, the music business, you name it. It's all interconnected in complex ways that make it seem like a quintessential American story. On top of everything else, co-author David Ritz has done an amazing job of editing what were surely hundreds of hours of interviews into a coherent narrative.

Ever since I saw Jimmy Stewart struggling to find "the sound" in The Glenn Miller Story (which I totally love), I have had this perverse fascination with biopics about musicians who have forged their own musical language, because it's so difficult to show that process onscreen--in real life, it typically takes years, and there's seldom a watershed moment dividing the youthful imitator from the fully mature artist. In that regard, Ray is not so different from Glenn Miller Story: the change happens magically, almost overnight, in this fairly corny way (even if the music being played when it happens is delightful).

On the other hand, another musical biography I watched recently--the documentary Tom Dowd and the Language of Music--does a really effective job of depicting the inherently uncinematic act of recording music onscreen. You get to see remarkably intimate footage of Dowd working with most of the Atlantic Records roster of the 1950s and 60s(including Brother Ray, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and tons of R&B and jazz acts), Eric Clapton, and then a bunch of mid-70s southern rockers (mucho time devoted to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, who don't seem comparable in my own personal scale to the aforementioned, but hey--to each his own). It's well worth checking out.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Carnival Time

Here's some info on a conference on The Arts and Cultural Politics of Carnival sponsored by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Iowa, which might be of interest to some of you.

(Thanks for the tip, June.)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Every1's a Winner

Every year on around Thanksgiving for the last decade or more, I determine the winners of the Ehmke(e) Awards, my own personal (okay, imaginary) year-in-music review. (Long story behind the parenthetical e; don't feel like sharing it at the moment.) Unlike most best-album honors given out by more legitimate bestowers, mine focus on the listener as much as the producer of the sounds: for me, picking an "album of the year" has more to do with the year I listened to the record than the year it hit stores. (Favorite example: Gram Parsons was my very first Artist of the Year, about two decades after he bit the dust.) I also don't feel compelled to narrow selections down to a single winner. Hell, I just plain don't like awards, period. In a nutshell, the two features of entertainment writing I find most boring are:
1) the annual year-end wrap-up of top ten CDs/movies/whatever, and
2) the annual column where people guess who's going to win the Grammys/Oscars/Emmys/etc. (particularly when they post actual odds, like 20:7, which make no sense to me and only trigger my math anxiety).
But somehow I can't resist the urge to combine these two ultra-boring concepts, albeit on my own terms.

Most years, the Ehmke(e) Awards are a purely hypothetical affair (except in 1997, when my list happened to make its way into The Berkshire Eagle's annual year-end wrap-up for reasons I ... won't go into here, in keeping with tonight's theme of Teasing the Reader). But now that I got me this here blog, I can share the results with ... all five people who read it. The virtual envelopes, please:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Brian Wilson, Smile. Hell, it's the least I can do to acknowledge such a monumental musical achievement and cultural event. And I've said more than enough about the album itself already. I'm just happy to see that it's been making a dent "at retail," as they say, and in the CD players of people around the world, some of whom may not even be obsessive megafans.

SONG OF THE YEAR: Outcast, "Hey Ya." And didn't Missy Elliot have some super-catchy single like "Work It" out this past year, too? It's getting so hard to remember which year is which as I approach my dotage. Anyway, those two top my list, for reasons that should be perfectly obvious.

ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Caetano Veloso. Another no-brainer, given how much of the music he has written and/or performed that I've surrounded myself with of late, to say nothing of the many happy hours spent reading his memoir.

João Gilberto (Nob Hill [I think], San Francisco, June)
Brian Wilson (Massey Hall, Toronto, October)
Wrote about the first of these here already, and one day I will actually get around to finishing the post I started and abandoned about the latter.

If I were a more ambitious sort, I'd look up past winners and list them here--except I don't think they're all written down anywhere. (Face it: honor is such an ephemeral quality sometimes.) I do recall that the 2003 concert of the year was a three-way tie between Robbie Fulks, Don Lennon (both at Mohawk Place here in Buffalo), and Super Furry Animals (at the Continental in Bflo--but how could I possibly have left Patti Smith's unbelievable 3-hour show at the Sphere out of that list??? Perhaps it was actually in 2002?). D Lennon got artist of the year, and album of the year was a threeway tie between The Postal Service's Give Up, Mr. Lennon's Downtown, and My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves. And I know that past album-of-the-year winners have included Mull Historical Society, The Twilight Singers, and Mark Eitzel. Oh, and Radiohead, but something tells me they don't need the extra sales bump which inevitably follows such a prestigious distinction.

(Y'know, anytime I write stuff like this, I can't help suspecting that I sound exactly like the protagonist of American Psycho, who spends his time between murders reviewing the history of the band Genesis, album by album. Is this not the worst fear of all bloggers?)

Any contests of your own to list here? Be my guest. Believe me, I'd way rather hear about the winner of the Bradley Q. Fakename honors than speculate about the Recording Association of America's next Best New Artist.