(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.
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.
Photo by Masayoshi Sukita
I started getting misty at the top of the stairs. Somewhere in between dehydration and Mick Ronson’s ending licks on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide,” I decided: this really sucks.
At the same time, my friend Hannah was texting her boyfriend the news: David Bowie has died from cancer. Her boyfriend’s first question: “Is Tommy going to be okay?” Tommy was huddled against 10 million strangers, trudging through the 9/11 Memorial on the walk to work, and weeping over an androgynous guitarist older than his father. Tommy was not okay.
It’s hard to explain such a visceral reaction to someone I have never met yet have grown up with like a family member. So I’ll start with the beginning.
In case you haven’t heard – or are willfully ignoring it, like the group of people who attempt to avoid discovering the victor of the Super Bowl every year – one of the great mysteries of pop music has finally come undone, albeit partially. In an interview with PEOPLE magazine, singer-songwriter and proto-Taylor Swift Carly Simon has revealed that the second verse, at the very least, of her seminal hit “You’re So Vain” is, as many suspected, about Warren Beatty. With a great sigh of relief, I’m certain, James Taylor can rock himself to sleep, and Mick Jagger has finally achieved some level of satisfaction, depending on the geography of his egotism in 2015.
What Simon also did in revealing Beatty as her muse, however, was take some of the intimacy out of listening to music. To be frank, I’d really rather she wouldn’t have done that. It isn’t so much that she’s ruined “You’re So Vain” – the classic rock stations in Charlotte, North Carolina, that seem to think Simon only ever released one song already achieved that in my youth – but she did manage to remind us that, as much as we want to feel closer to the musicians we love, they are eternally out of reach, mingling with people more famous than we in parties on yachts, dressed in white clothing after Labor Day like the bourgeois bottles on the top shelf that they are.
To be clear, I’m only half-serious, but that half is deadly serious.
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.
Memorial Day Weekend is on the horizon¹, and that means we are officially entering Summer Jam Season™. It’s time to break out your sunglasses, sun tan lotion and tracks that someone else has deemed “Songs of the Summer.” Of course, no two songs define the season from person-to-person if we’re being honest here. No outlet can definitively tell you how to relax by the pool, take in the rolling waves of the beach or ride your bike through the piping hot city streets. Plus, the Summer Jam Season™ changes and morphs throughout time. Whatever is hot during Memorial Day Weekend is going to be well past its sell-by date once we hit the dog days of August.
We here at TwH are not in the business of declaring something as THE Song of the Summer – there are a ton of other places for that. We’re just here to guide you to some songs you might want to add to your Spotify, iTunes or that little upstart streaming app with a teal logo, for the summer. We’ll give you updates as the summer progresses.