Monday, December 24, 2012
Another is the notorious Atlantic article, "The End of Jazz," which is both a review of the book and a larger essay -- intelligently argued, albeit not entirely convincing, I don't think -- about how the disconnection between jazz and the songbook has left them both dead.
The third, perhaps, is my own progress (if you heard me play, you'd know that this is probably the wrong word) as an amateur jazz guitarist, learning various numbers such as "All the Things You Are," "Autumn Leaves," "Chitlins Con Carne," "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Blue Bossa," and so on. I've been struck by how inventive, ingenious and musically bottomless these great songs, whether by Jerome Kern or Charles Mingus, remain. How far can you stretch 'em before they break?
And how does the shrinking of the jazz audience connect to my ideas about the crisis of the creative class?
For my latest piece for Salon, I've looked at some of the issues, and crossed them with a look back at jazz over the last year or so. My understanding of some of this mix of good and bad was bolstered by another very fine new book, Marc Myers' social history Why Jazz Happened.
I spoke to Myers, Sonny Rollins, jazz scribe Gary Giddins, head of Nonesuch Records Bob Hurwitz, and others. The question of how jazz can thrive in the future is important to me and I hope I've taken a step into understanding it.
Happy holidays to my readers from The Misread City.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
LaVette also has a new record, Thankful 'n' Thoughtful, on the Anti- label. It's got her usual counter-intutive set list, with songs by Dylan, the Black Keys, Neil Young, and two versions (one of them wonderful) of Ewan MacColl's "Dirty Old Town" -- originally written about Salford, Lancashire, which makes me wonder how long it will take her to cover The Smiths.
Friday, December 7, 2012
Healy and I have a second-hand connection since we've both published on Red Hen Press, so I will not evaluate her work except to say I'm pleased with her appointnent. Here's poet Dana Gioia, who was part of the selection committee, on her commitment to the city:
A hearty congratulations to Eloise Klein Healy from The Misread City!
Monday, November 19, 2012
By now, we have a pretty good sense of what a Burns doc will be like. That said, parts of this are quite ravishing. And while it is not exactly a work of polemic, this look back at this man-made disaster, coming so soon after the ravages of the storm Sandy, show us how we're really throwing the planet out of wack.
Here is my interview with the bowl-cutted auteur.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Here is my story from Salon, the latest in my series on the pressure exerted on the creative class. For now, my focus is on the announced merger of Penguin and Random House, but there could be more.
I speak to a number of people here, including FSG boss Jonathan Galassi and publishing veteran Ira Silverberg, now at the NEA.
Please don't let the story's provocative headline distract you from my argument. Capitalism is part of the problem here, indeed, but capitalism also allowed publishing (and the creative class itself) to develop and thrive.
What I fear is the wrong kind of capitalism -- the kind that would trouble not just people on the left, but folks like Teddy Roosevelt in his trust-busting days -- is taking over.
Perhaps the key theme of the series is the idea of American exceptionalism, which the two see as quite dangerous, and tied to a Manichean worldview that dates back to the Puritans.
Of course, people on both sides of the aisle have reasons to be wary of Stone's view of history, American and otherwise. Check out my story, here, and let me know if you are persuaded.
Monday, October 29, 2012
So we wasted no time checking out his Cabaret of Souls, a theatrical staging of the Underworld that is sort of an oratorio, sort of a rock concert with strings, sort of a medieval torture, and sort of like a talent show in hell. And while it's not quite perfect, it's also far better than I'll be able to make it sound, and either the weirdest great show I've seen recently or the greatest weird one.
I'm not going to try to describe the plot of this strange hybrid of a beast except in barest terms. The audience is swept into the narrative even before they enter the hall -- at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica (snazzy arts center, by the way), the parking attendants and ushers wore devil horns. The band -- a chamber orchestra, basically -- limps out like a gang of zombies. A costumed Harry Shearer serves a narrator.
From there, we get a series of songs, some sung by Richard, some by Welsh folkie Judith Owen, some by others, in a variety of styles. Some characters represent variations on the Seven Deadly Sins -- gluttony, pride, and so on. Among the best of these was a gangster's moll whose song, "My Dave," was both tuneful and filled with the kind of self-deception Richard's songs are known for. Is there a songwriter better at capturing the lies we tell ourselves? Cabaret of Souls took advantage of his knack for creating widely disparate characters.
The music was in a huge range of styles, and I'm glad to report that in almost all the songs, it was still possible to hear the wonderful chiming fills he got from his acoustic guitar. (Still baffled how he gets that tone -- I've even played the Lowden guitar designed for him and cannot get close.) Also at this staging was double-bassist Danny Thompson, a Brit-folk hero since his days with Pentangle and a fruitful, longtime Richard collaborator of no relation.
Some concerns: There's an archness and mean-spiritedness to some of the characters that was jarring at the very least. (A few moments recalled the moralism of, say, Roald Dahl.) This was a quasi-medieval setting, and Richard's work is all drawn from the grim and unforgiving world of British and Celtic folk music, so perhaps it was in tone with the show's origins. It was still a bit jarring.
And the piece gets going quite nicely about 10 minutes or so in, but seems a little confused at first as we get various introductions to where we are, what's going on, etc. The piece has, I'm told by friends who saw the Royce Hall performance, been improved and made more theatrical since then. It could still use a bit of refining, I think.
But Cabaret of Souls was also funny, musically adventurous and at times, perhaps in spite of itself, genuinely moving. Richard Thompson continues to confound us.