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Edge of the Cross.

“Most people think of U2 as a wildly popular rock band. Actually, they’re a wildly popular, semi-secretly Christian rock band. In some ways, this seems obvious…where else would the streets have no name? But even critics and fans who say that they know about U2’s Christianity often underestimate how important it is to the band’s music, and to the U2 phenomenon…While secular listeners tend to think of U2’s religiosity as preachy window dressing, religious listeners see faith as central to the band’s identity. To some people, Bono’s lyrics are treacly platitudes, verging on nonsense; to others, they’re thoughtful, searching, and profound meditations on faith.”

Step aside, Creed and Stryper: Also in The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman explains why U2 is the biggest Christian rock act ever. I sorta knew this — the double meaning of Pop comes to mind (Pop as in music, Pop as in Father) — but I had never thought about or realized how integral the connections were.

“The story of U2 might be this: having begun as a band that was uncertain about the idea of pursuing a life of faith through music, they have resolved that uncertainty. Their thin ecclesiology has become thick…They know they made the right choice, and they seem happy. Possibly, their growing comfort is bad for their art.”

Then It Wouldn’t Be Sky Anymore.

“Someone asked me, ‘Do you think children born after, say, 1994, will ever feel the same things about 9/11 that people born before then feel? More and more, what we “feel” about collective history seems like something manufactured, and kind of pumped into us, rather than a real emotion. It’s all so framed by the sense that reality doesn’t exist any more, or at least not in a way that is alterable or questioning.”

In related news, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. talks about the art of Douglas Coupland and the legacy of 9/11. “Is that who we are now? Blind, unquestioning, warlike? Are we that violent, that childish, that silly, that shallow? Are we that afraid of others? Of ourselves? Of the possibility of genuine change? Are we that easily swayed, that capable of defending ‘American interests’, whatever ‘American interests’ means?

Wars without Williams.


As making the rounds of late, the raw C-SPAN feed of the Yavin 4 medal ceremony was a considerably weaker PR hit for the Rebellion, and no mistake. (Chewie in particular comes off much worse — This is like learning of Lincoln’s squeaky voice.)

Also in recent Original Trilogy-related humor, Black C-3PO (BL3PO? Either way, probably still less offensive than Jar Jar et al) and this analysis of the insurgency on Endor’s moon. “The Ewoks are not soldiers, but a tribal insurgency — and a remarkably successful one once they receive the backing of foreign special forces.”

It Seemed So Silly and Long.

“Artists, however, objected to the wastefulness of the longbox. In 1991, R.E.M. had a record coming out, and the band did not want millions of trees cut down just to create this extra packaging. The Warner Bros. sales department knew that this album absolutely had to come out in a longbox if it was going to do well in retail, and that’s when Gold realized that he could merge the two projects he was working on.

Hey, hey, hey (Say what?): Slate and the 99% Invisible podcast survey the world-shaking importance of R.E.M.’s “Out of Time” longbox. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is why no album in the history of recorded music has had as large an effect on politics in the United States as R.E.M’s Out of Time.” Welllll…that sounds a bit hyperbolic, but I do remember sending in that Rock the Vote Motor Voter card back in the day.

Back to the Basement.

“Thinking he might get them set to music, Burnett contacted a group of sympathetic songwriters – [Elvis] Costello, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes – and set them to work, with a plan to…concoct an album or two out of the results. The first of them will be released later this year, under the title Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes Vol 1.”

The Guardian‘s Richard Williams offers a preview of the “new” “Bob Dylan” album, created along the lines of Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Woody Guthrie records — old Basement Tapes-era lyrics, new music. ‘Everybody brought their A game,’ he said. ‘But you don’t record all 44 versions of these songs in 12 days by being precious about it.'”

Beats, Rhymes, Life to Bling-Bling-Bling.

“Whereas ‘My Adidas’ highlighted consumer items, ‘Picasso Baby’ is all about unattainable luxury, fantasy acquisitions. Within the first ten words of the song, Jay Z ensures that no one in his audience can identify with the experience that he’s rapping about…hip-hop has become complicit in the process by which winners are increasingly isolated from the populations they are supposed to inspire and engage…[I]t’s a significant turnaround and comedown for a music that was, only a little while back, devoted to reflecting the experience of real people and, through that reflection, challenging the power structure that produces inequality and disenfranchisement.”

In a six-part-series for Vulture, The Roots‘ Questlove explains, in his view, how hip-hop has failed black America. [Part 1.] Only two parts in, but so far he’s dead on. I know I’m turning forty this year, so there’s probably no small amount of Get-Off-My-Lawn involved. But, imho of course, something went wrong when commercial hip-hop took the hyper-consumerist turn awhile ago.

Back in the day, you had East vs. West coast (if I got to choose a coast, I got to choose the East — I live out there, so don’t go there), the Pan-racial, regular guy optimism of the Native Tongues; the history- and political-minded hip-hop of Public Enemy, Gangstarr, X-Clan, KRS-One; the skewed pop-culture funhouse of the Wu-Empire, rappers like Slick Rick, Nas, & Rakim working their own unique thing.

Now, some of Kanye’s experimenting aside, the hip-hop mainstream — from my admittedly limited perspective — seems to be mainly concerned with needle boats. “Who’s to blame? It’s hard to say. Certainly, Puff Daddy’s work with the Notorious B.I.G. in the early ’90s did plenty to cement the idea of hip-hop as a genre of conspicuous consumption.”

Then again, as a few people pointed out in the comments, the evolution of hip-hop from diversity to commodity isn’t happening in a vacuum. The music world, in most any genre, seems to be in a really bad way these days. But again, this is always the aging person’s lament. Now Get Off My Lawn.

Trust Elvis…Except in Bed.

History repeats the old conceits, the glib replies, the same defeats (except in bed): A tumblr of Elvis Costello lyrics turned into fortune cookies. Your science-fiction twin probably got a better one.

The Hopeless, Hungry Side of Town.


“In 1968, legendary badass Johnny Cash reportedly visited Nickajack Cave in his native Tennessee, with the intention of killing himself. Instead, he had something of a spiritual experience in that cave…This macabre personal narrative is visually represented in a new music video for the once and always Man In Black, one which begins by taking viewers right into the maw of that cave, and ends with our exit.”

“I’m no slave to whistle, clock, or bell, not weak-eyed prisoner of Wall Street. Let me be easy on the man that’s down. Let me be square and generous with all. And guide me on the long, dim, trail ahead that stretches upward toward the Great Divide.” Via Fast Company‘s Joe Berkowitz, John Hillcoat of The Proposition and The Road has fashioned an evocative posthumous video for Johnny Cash’s “She Used to Love Me a Lot.” The lines above, which begin this clip, are from Badger Clark’s “A Cowboy’s Prayer.

Put the Needle on the Record.

“What can I say? God bless Elliott Smith. We had been talking to him during the course of that film, and he was really struggling. I just feel lucky. Once again, I think it’s Wes’s ability to work with music in a sequence. It’s just so powerful and so touching and so sad and so beautiful.”

Vulture talks about the music choices in twelve iconic Anderson scenes with longtime Wes Anderson collaborator and music supervisor Randall Poster, including Richie’s bad day, above, also channeled by sad Kermit, below.

Things Have…Changed?


“It feels silly to make this point for the umpteenth time, more than half a century after Dylan released his debut album, but here goes. Bob Dylan, history has shown, is a wily and willful character. Arguably the only through line in his career is his tricksterish determination to upset expectations; to thumb his nose at his fans and hagiographers; to épater la bourgeoisie, especially by acting bourgeois.”

New York Magazine music critic Jody Rosen argues Bob Dylan is having a laugh in his new Superbowl Chrysler ad. “Dylan hasn’t recorded a protest song in decades, but make no mistake: The car ad and the yogurt ad, they’re protests.”

“When Clint Eastwood did his Chrysler Super Bowl ad, he was introduced with a silhouette, and there was never any doubt; once Dylan appears the ad does everything short of superimposing a neon arrow labeled ‘Dylan’ and directed at him. At one point, he actually goes into a guitar store, stops, and brings his face close to a rack of books with his name and pictures on their covers.”

Meanwhile, The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson argues it was a dumb ad anyway. “It’s not even the best car ad Dylan has ever made; he did a better job for Cadillac.” (And for Victoria’s Secret, for that matter.)

Like Rosen, I think this was very much in keeping what Dylan does these days. And like Davidson, I thought the ad could have been better — Even the syncing of Bob’s voice and face seemed off.

My biggest issue, intentional or not, was that the sincerity of Bob’s pitch was completely undercut by the song in the background — “Things Have Changed”. It’s a little late in the day to try and repurpose Dylan’s existential classic, and an obvious riff off the almost snide self-assurance that Good Will Inherently Prevail in “The Times They-Are-A-Changin’,” into an upbeat marketing anthem.

Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove…You can’t win with a losing hand…All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.” Theoretically, Bob is telling us to Buy American, Buy Detroit, but all I could hear was the ode to not giving a good-goddamn about a broken world anymore. “Highway 61″ or the jaunty “Stuck Inside of Mobile” would’ve made more sense.

This Man was Made For You and Me.

“‘My job,’ he said in 2009, ‘is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.'” Pete Seeger, songwriter, archivist, activist, and godfather of the folk revival, 1919-2014. “‘The key to the future of the world,’ he said in 1994, ‘is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.'”

River of Song.

“The Music Timeline shows genres of music waxing and waning, based on how many Google Play Music users have an artist or album in their music library, and other data (such as album release dates). Each stripe on the graph represents a genre; the thickness of the stripe tells you roughly the popularity of music released in a given year in that genre.” Some click-bait fun for a slow day: Google Research’s Music Timeline.

Still Not Selling Any Alibis.

“‘The effect can only be surrealistic if the channels are realistic,’ says Vania Heymann, the video’s 27-year-old Israeli director. ‘In reality, channel-flipping is a very passive act. You’re sitting back in your house, doing nothing. We wanted to make it an active thing, reediting the song itself to make a new version.’

As making the rounds today: Forty-eight years after that trademark snare-shot first “kicked open the door to your mind,” as Bruce Springsteen once put it, Bob Dylan’s seminal “Like a Rolling Stone” gets a spiffy official interactive video. I clicked on this yesterday and didn’t even notice the lip-syncing on every channel. In my defense, I may have gone to the finest schools alright, but I only used to get juiced in them.

Them Big Boys Did What HBO Couldn’t Do.

“As you probably heard, the onetime juggernaut of a video rental chain formally pulled the plug on most of its remaining retail stores this week. Just think of all those abandoned storefronts where people used to rent ‘Wall Street 2′ or ‘Pain and Gain’ or whatever; just think of what Bruce Springsteen, the bard of economic collapse, might have done with such a…well, I was about to type ‘catastrophic occurrence,’ but..it was more like a sector of the marketplace realigning itself with technological reality after years of denying the inevitable.”

Down in South Carolina, back in 1993, I wore the blue and yellow, got ten free films a week. I built up some movie knowledge, right near the Florence Mall. Now those tapes have been taken away, lost amid the suburban sprawl. After mining the Internet hivemind, Matt Zoller Seitz gathers odes to the end of Blockbuster in the style of Bruce Springsteen.

Mowing neighborhood lawns notwithstanding, Blockbuster was actually my first job. And, while I never cottoned to their Republican-leaning ways or their ridiculous drug test policy, it was a pretty good gig for a high school kid, all in all — if you could withstand the same twenty trailers and episode of Duck Tales playing ALL THE TIME. Like I said, ten free movies a week. As an 18-year-old just working to raise beer-money for college, you can’t beat that with a stick.

A Brief Period of Rejoicing.

As going around the Interweb of late, Colombian artist Dicken Schrader has formed a Depeche Mode cover band with his children Milah and Korben, where they sing about deviant romance, the world’s incurable propensity for greed, and the usual DM smorgasbord of heartbreak, depression, and regret. The kids are alright.

Those Pipes, Those Pipes Still Calling.

“‘Its long-time popularity, especially among the Irish diaspora in America and Britain, has made it a bonding agent for exiles,” adds Brian Mullen. ‘It is a way for them to recognise themselves, and others to recognise them, as a group.'”

Among them, of course, Leo O’Bannon: On its 100th anniversary, BBC surveys the enduring popularity of Danny Boy. “All the flowers are dying, and they will be for a long time, but then they’ll bloom again and Danny will still be on the road. You never know, because somewhere the pipes, the pipes will be calling.”

Another Side of Llewyn Davis.

“Just as sure as the birds are flying high above, life ain’t worth living without the one you love.” Speaking of quality music from Coen corners, the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis is now streaming at NPR. Below is the song from the trailer (and quoted above), Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford’s rendition of the 1908 traditional, Dink’s Song (Fare Thee Well).

A BWOMMPology from Zimmer.

BWOMMP. “‘Oh, it’s horrible!’ he told Vulture. ‘This is a perfect example of where it all goes wrong. That music became the blueprint for all action movies, really. And if you get too many imitations, even I get confused!'” BWOMMP. Inception scorer and BWOMMP creator Hans Zimmer would like to apologize for the BWOMMP.

Update: “[R]eading [the Zimmer article] and seeing someone on the inside, who knows exactly how everything happened, outright lying, that bothered me. I just feel the truth on the whole process should be explained once and for all.”

And now we have a BWOMMP-troversy: Inception sound designer Mike Zarin says Zimmer is full of it regarding the origins of the BWOMMP. Having watched all three iterations of the trailer in this link, I’d argue Zack Hemsey’s “Mind Heist” really captures the first BWOMMP in all its glory.

Tired Pony, Still Bucking.

“Well, I love those songs. But I never want to play ‘Losing My Religion’ again. ‘Man on the Moon,’ it’s a great song. But it’s five minutes long and I’ve played it a couple thousand times.” Two years after R.E.M. called it a day, Salon checks in with the still-prolific Peter Buck. “You know, I kind of like the fact that maybe I’m done saying things to the public. I’m just finished.” (Buck Photo via here.)

River and Atoms.

When not sitting ringside while the GOP devours its own tail, the ladyfriend and I have been continuing to take in concerts around the area. Of late:

Okkervil River at 9:30 Club: It Was My Season | On a Balcony | Black | For Real | Rider | Pink-Slips | John Allyn Smith Sails | Stay Young | Lido Pier Suicide Car | The Valley | Red | Kansas City | Where the Spirit Left Us | Down Down The Deep River | Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe | Lost Coastlines

Encore: Walking Without Frankie | A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene | Unless It’s Kicks

I wasn’t familiar with these guys at all before the show — Apparently, they’ve been at it for fifteen years — but they seemed to be a pretty solid alt-rock outfit out of Austin. The songs that had the biggest impression on me, live at least, were The Valley (“Fallen in the valley of the rock and roll dead!”) and “Lost Coastlines” (buoyed by some very Morrissey-ish crooning by (iirc) the bassist.)

Atoms for Peace at Patriot Center: Before Your Very Eyes | Default | The Clock | Ingenue | Stuck Together Pieces | Unless | And It Rained All Night | Harrowdown Hill | Dropped | Cymbal Rush

Encore: The Eraser | Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses | Rabbit in Your Headlights | Paperbag Writer | Amok.
Encore 2: Atoms for Peace | Black Swan

Nor, being a movie more than a music guy, was I aware that Thom Yorke and Flea were taking time away from their respective SuperGroups to make Afrobeat albums as Atoms for Peace. Hard to pick a distinctive best moment from this show — Most of the songs ran together here (in a good way, if you enjoy more beat-intensive variations on that distinctive Yorke-shire croon.)

That being said, after watching Flea (Age 50) hop around like a madman half his age throughout this show — in the same week that Sandra Bullock (Age 49) braved the vicissitudes of Zero-G Ripley-style in Gravity, it sure seems like 50 is the new 30 these days. And that puts me solidly in my 20’s – Woot.

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