Music

Woodstock @ 50

Featured image Forget asking about citizenship status on the next Census. I’ve always wanted to have the Census ask: “Were you at Woodstock in 1969?” The event was such an icon for the appalling baby boomer generation (to which I sadly belong) that I estimate that you’d get 5 million Yes responses to the question. Maybe that many people believe they were there by astral projection during an acid trip or something. »

At the Grateful Dead meet-up

Featured image Taking a break from the news, I attended the first international edition of the so-called Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the suburban AMC multiplex in Eden Prairie, Minnesota last night. This year’s Meet-Up featured a showing of the Dead’s June 17, 1991 concert at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (setlist here). Arriving at the Eden Prairie mall an hour early to have dinner with my friend Mike Frost saved »

Rhyming Albuquerque

Featured image This morning I’m flying to Albuquerque on my way to St. John’s College in Santa Fe to study Montaigne’s “Apology for Raymond Sebond” next week. It’s the longest essay in Montaigne’s Essays, by far. I hope to deepen my understanding of this difficult essay over the next week. At the moment I will only say that Montaigne is a most humane and companionable writer. We have much to learn from »

Musical notes

Featured image I am crazy about American popular music. I admire the songwriters, the performers, the musicians, the producers, the historians and even (in the case of Norman Granz) the managers. In just the past year, for example, I have paid tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (and Granz), Bob Dylan, David Bromberg, Ann Hampton Callaway, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy LaMott, Philip Furia (for his books »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image Ernest Hemingway famously declared: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. It’s the best book we’ve had.” For me, all American music comes from one band founded by Roger McGuinn called the Byrds. It’s the best band we’ve had. Yesterday McGuinn turned 77. Long may he run. Chris Hillman was the Byrds’ original bassist. He had become a California bluegrass star fronting his »

Color Him Father

Featured image I wrote this on Father’s Day a few years ago. It is a post that struck a chord with at least a few readers. I am taking the liberty of reposting it today in honor of the day. My father was a thoughtful man in his own way. In the last years of his life he recited for me the things for which he was most grateful. In retrospect I »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image Albert O spins the tunes on WUMB’s four-hour Saturday morning show featuring music of the ’60’s and 70’s. The show takes its name from Bob Dylan’s album Highway 61 Revisited — that’s the name of the show. Dylan is the show’s tutelary spirit. Albert observes Dylan’s birthday each year by devoting the show to Dylan’s songs, mostly as performed by others. The show can’t help but prompt one to reflect »

Not dark yet, cont’d

Featured image Bob Dylan is first and foremost a songwriter. He somehow absorbed the folk, rock, country and blues traditions as a precocious young man and then recapitulated them in his own voice many times over while adding a twist of modernist poetry to the mix. On his birthday, I want to take the liberty of reposting some notable cover versions of great songs you may not have heard before, at least »

Not dark yet

Featured image Today is the birthday of Minnesota native son Bob Dylan; he turns the ripe old age of 78. It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there. We’re going to celebrate him as long we’re both still around to enjoy the occasion. He is a remarkable artist, self-invented, deep in the American grain. A few years back I visited Dylan’s old home at 2425 7th Avenue East in Hibbing. The house »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image I want to ask you to stay tuned for our annual Bobfest in honor of Dylan’s birthday this coming Friday. As long as it’s not dark yet, we will continue to celebrate him. These notes on David Bromberg are something of a placeholder in advance of May 24. There is of course a Dylan connection. Dylan is one of the many great artists with whom Bromberg has played and recorded »

Sunday Morning Coming Down [with update from Terry Teachout]

Featured image According to Yeats, the intellect of man is forced to choose between perfection of the life or of the work. Does anyone choose perfection of the life? It doesn’t seem like a realistic alternative. Perfection of the work, however, is a different story. Driving home one day from court last week, I listened to Ann Hampton Callaway spin the songs on SiriusXM’s Siriusly Sinatra channel. Playing Favorites is the name »

God Bless America? No, Please Don’t!

Featured image We live in a world that is almost too stupid for words. Here is the latest: the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Flyers have stopped playing Kate Smith’s iconic recording of “God Bless America.” Why? Because Smith recorded a couple of other songs, during the 1930s, that some liberals now consider objectionable. The Washington Post takes this idiocy seriously: The voice of singer Kate Smith is rapidly disappearing from »

Sunday morning coming down: Philip Furia, RIP

Featured image On Friday we received the sad news that University of North Carolina-Wilmington Professor of English Philip Furia had died at the age of 75. Professor Furia died on April 3 following a fall at his home in Wilmington. The news came to us via Professor Furia’s friend Tony L. Hill, who is aware of the many acknowledgements of my debt to Professor Furia’s work deepening our understanding of American popular »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image It’s been a few years since we last explored the work of Emmylou Harris. Emmylou celebrates her birthday this coming Tuesday. She is, to say the least, still going strong. In the world of the Cosmic American Music, attention must be paid. I want to take the opportunity to revisit her career with a few examples of her work. For me, anyway, this is the pause that refreshes. I’m a »

Spring can really hang you up the most

Featured image I’m taking the liberty of reposting this tribute to a great song with an unusual story behind it. From Ella Fitzgerald to Fran Landesman to T.S. Eliot and Geoffrey Chaucer, here we go: There are a few torch songs that lament the coming of Spring. This time of year, if you’re tuned to one of the right stations, you may well find yourself listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s memorable rendition of »

You must believe in spring

Featured image Judging by the variety of performances by artists on YouTube, “You Must Believe in Spring” must be a beloved and well-known song. It is popular as an instrumental — you can find it on the first posthumous Bill Evans album in a fantastic trio version — and you can understand why. What a melody. But the sentiment expressed in the English lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman overlaid on that »

The best thing…

Featured image Everyone is complaining about yesterday’s supposedly boring Super Bowl game — that would be Super Bowl LIII, if you’re counting in Latin. With the rules of the game having been recalibrated continually to favor never ending offense, I appreciated the return of defense. If the halftime show was concededly a lowlight, the singing of the national anthem must be deemed the highlight. Out strolled Gladys Knight to sing the anthem. »