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Blues

(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.

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aretha franklin songs

Citation needed

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.

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Let’s say, for instance, you were at the forefront of popular culture in the free world, soon to be deposed and cast to a life of relative reality. If you were to host a party celebrating, commemorating and memorializing the occasion in the United States of America, who would you invite? With a good head on your shoulders, and among your own personal favorites, you would attempt to speak to the populace, who have chosen against you in the years ahead, allocating goodwill while bracing for the impact of an unforeseen, unpredictable regime.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama bestowed what will presumably be the final twenty Presidential Medals of Freedom of his record-setting Presidency, in which he dispensed more than any other in history. The man knows how best to leave a party, it seems. In returning to that question, who would play your societal funeral?

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Courtesy of okayplayer.com

Courtesy of okayplayer.com

Disclaimer: Since about the age of 16, I have been under the impression, which many share, that James Marshall Hendrix is the single best guitar player this world has ever seen. His musicianship continues to astound me, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I like, with varying degrees, every single piece of music he ever recorded. His influence is such that, even 43 years after his extremely premature death at the age of 27, guitar players today cannot even begin to imitate anything that Hendrix did with any real success. For all of Clapton’s disciples (which, if you ask any of the guys with whom I was in a band in high school, they will tell you I am, to an annoying degree), all the wannabe-hip Django-heads and the legions who trust in Jimmy Page’s mysticism, it is Hendrix’s shadow which keeps everyone searching for the light.

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BB KING

“Anytime you thinkin’ evil, you thinkin’ ’bout the blues.” – Chester Arthur Burnett, AKA Howlin’ Wolf

Slowly, timidly, the sun set over the Hudson River. Thousands of people had gathered in the World Financial Center, soon to be renamed Brookfield Place, to see an 87-year-old, diabetic black man play a six-stringed instrument he had named “Lucille.” When the backing band took the stage and played its way through a few instrumentals, stretching out seemingly in an effort to prove its worth to the audience, anticipation growing to a fever pitch. The band’s tight transitions and familiarity with the changes in direction one member would make in leading the others, all the while acknowledging the formidable vacancy at center stage.

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