(Jorgen Angel/Redferns – courtesy of Pitchfork)
Have you ever noticed that the snare drum never quite hits usually in “Sunshine Of Your Love”? Maybe you have; Ginger Baker never would have assumed that you would expect something like that, given the circumstances. Circumstance is everything, and what you don’t notice can alternately end up killing you, or being the very reason you feel love.
Baker, best known as the drummer of Cream, passed away on Sunday at the age of 80. Anger and belligerence are as key to his story as they are to those of his dairy bandmates’, and Baker was perhaps the most prominent person that enabled the expansion of what we thought a rock trio could be. Getting Jack Bruce to run through a fuzz box helped, sure; throwing Ginger Baker as many drums and cymbals as he could handle, though, was the key revelation to tying the British blues rock push together.
(Public domain, hopefully? Let us know if this is a problem)
After the fact, he would simply refer to the performance as “beautiful” in an attempt to deflect accusations of controversy in the face of a divided nation. A few months after that, around the change of the calendar, he would roll out his true protest, the finest electric guitar symphony ever conceived, in what would end up being the only showcase for his talents that were actually on his terms. He would be dead within the year, nobody the wiser.
But in this moment, at 9 am the morning after the damn thing was supposed to end on the saturated grounds that were never as good as they looked on film long after the fact to the millions upon millions who were nostalgic for something that never was, he was free. He hoped only for as much as that for everyone else. Fifty years ago today, at right around the time this post is publishing, Jimi Hendrix played the longest set of his career at Woodstock, a sloppy, convoluted mess which nevertheless gave us an interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that has confounded and inspired ever since.
You have options. Before the start of every new sporting season, dedicated fans take a step back to join casual onlookers just catching up in assessing offseason developments, visualizing the year ahead, prognosticating to pass the time. There are bland press releases to read, rehearsed transcripts to read into, social media posts to pick apart. Media sources both official and otherwise get paid to distill this pile of corporate-backed bollocks into coherent season previews with scripted narratives to follow for your benefit so you can regurgitate it to uninterested parties as the smartest, least likable person in the room when the topic of conversation finally comes around. I know what these previews will say. So do you. This is the ritual.
But there are alternatives. That’s why you’re here.
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Graphic by Brian Kraker
Another year down. Another year older, but perhaps none the wiser? Maybe that decision doesn’t belong to you alone. It felt like nothing did, most of the time. From Tide Pods to the Philly Special to countless acts of cruelty and many more of plain senselessness to the continued existence of the Golden State Warriors to having 12 years left to stop the sun to inexplicable blue lights over Astoria, everything that happened felt like it was going to happen anyway, sooner or later, and we were all left to bear it as best we could. Same as it ever was, but different.
Still: we would be equally bereft of sense to assume that darkness would drive out darkness. You may have heard that only light can do that. For all the bad and rot everywhere, urban, suburban and rural, at home and abroad, there were the moments in between that made everything we experience every day that kept us together, however briefly. If we experienced them together? All the better.
As Bootsy Collins said in 1972, “Balance is my thing/The snow, wind and rain must come.” With that, we delve into the year that was, with an eye toward the twelvemonth ahead.
The first time I internalized Aretha Franklin – not “heard,” because as an American growing up post-1966, you never hear her for the first time – I was playing a video game against my oldest, not older, brother, back in the relatively nascent console days when video game producers didn’t know what to do other than to license actual music to fill in gaps in gameplay.
Specifically, the first time I internalized Aretha Franklin, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 76, was during one of the marathon sessions of NFL GameDay 2000 that yours truly used to play against his older, wiser sibling. To give you an idea of how the games themselves usually went, I relied on the fake punt-pass as my go-to fourth down play, and it never worked, and the most memorable game we ever played rests on that guy using that play, my play, to beat me in the final seconds of a game in which I was already ahead. He kept a running log of this particular series, but that is neither here nor there. It’s in Chicago, if I had to guess.
After I saw the 2018 Album of the Year Grammy nominees, I told myself that I wouldn’t be mad if any of the artists nominated won the highly coveted award. There were no glaring insults to the culture-at-large, à la Beck or Mumford & Sons. There was Bruno Mars, Lorde, Jay-Z, Childish Gambino and, of course, Kendrick Lamar. All of these artists released albums that seeped through popular culture (though you could argue that the extent of Lorde’s and Childish Gambino’s impacts was less pronounced than the other three nominees).
Despite having a lineup of albums that had their valid arguments and did not seem personally imported into the category by John Lennon impersonator and Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, the final win for Bruno Mars’ resounding coronation changed my earlier assertion that I would not fault the Grammys for awarding something like 24K Magic for Album of the Year. The more I began to reflect on Bruno’s win and what it meant, the more I began to question why we should even pay attention.
A funny thing about growing up with parents ceaselessly devoted to the music they like: after a certain point, the idea of a “soundtrack” to growing up dissipates, and you’re left with a pastiche of sounds that, without warning, can trigger any number of nostalgic thoughts years, even decades, later. You didn’t ask for this, but it’s what you got. You live with it, and eventually, hopefully, you become grateful for it.
Along with a handful of other artists, I don’t remember the first time I ever heard Tom Petty because he was always just there. Not to make an assumption on your behalf, dear reader, but I’ve got a feeling that, unlike most of the rest of them for me, you likely don’t remember the first time you heard Petty either. He’s always been there, for all of us, which made it all the more devastating when word officially came down late Monday night that Petty had passed away at the age of 66.