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(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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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[1], 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.

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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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Imagine being the world’s biggest pop star at 24, an icon of one musical genre and the reluctant voice of a stifled, conflicted generation. At just the time your organic rise became meteoric, you re-discovered an old passion for electrified rock and roll, the kind you used to play rambunctiously before leaving it behind in Minnesota.

To people of a certain age or inclination, July 25, 1965, is a date of considerable magnitude. On that date, in Newport, Rhode Island, the most influential songwriter of the twentieth century made perhaps the most important decision of his life, one which has left an indelible effect on pop music and American life.

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Courtesy of myself

Courtesy of myself

Each turn of the calendar at New Year’s brings tradition and hope. For the night itself, for the many opportunities which lie before us and for a carrying on of the memories we created in the previous twelve months. Amid the repeated choruses of “Auld Lang Syne” and Ryan Seacrest’s face invading your television live from Times Square, it can sometimes seem rote to imply that a new year means a fresh start with entirely different ideas to the ones in which we’ve become entrenched. Sometimes, however, retreating to what we know best, a place of comfort, allows us to freely move to a new stage of our lives and get better at whatever it is we’re striving to become, with the people most important to us there for support. Sometimes a combination of the two is the best way.

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MatD

In the interest of full disclosure, here is a somewhat abridged account of my relationship with the Avett Brothers as a musical entity: one night in the autumn of 2008, when I was probably seventeen years old and a junior in high school, I was riding in the backseat of my friend Carrie’s blue Jeep with two of my other good friends, Justin and Morgan, around the streets and highways of South Carolina. Cycling through the tracks on a mixed CD and/or the shuffle function on her iPod (I can’t remember for certain, but I know there was a huge collection of CDs in that automobile), she landed on something that was new and exciting to me but which had become, to my admittedly much cooler friends, something of a way of life. This was the first time I heard the opening strums of “Die Die Die,” the first song on the 2007 album Emotionalism, and it tore up every Hendrix-laden notion of my personal preferences at the time. Bruce Springsteen once said of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” that it “sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind.” In the context of my own teenage taste, the same explosion happened in that Jeep.

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