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Posts Tagged ‘music’

Kristin Dombek’s “Letter from Williamsburg”

July 26, 2013 | by


Il Pordenone, The Holy Trinity

This essay may sound strange, read by a man—it is very specifically a woman’s essay. But Dombek’s voice is so powerful, every time I read “Letter from Williamsburg,” I hear it in my head. It’s like a song I want to sing along to. In fact, I remember reading the first two paragraphs to our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, over the phone, before the rest of the essay was written. I wanted him to hear how beautifully Dombek modulates her tone from the sublime to the mundane. I only wish I could do justice to the music on the page.

Read the full essay in our Summer 2013 issue.



How to Prepare for the Past

July 22, 2013 | by


Lillian Roxon died forty years ago this August.

Lillian was an Australian journalist who moved to New York in the late 1950s to cover popular culture for the Sydney Morning Herald and who fell madly in love with the city and with the sixties rock scene as it emerged. An unbridled enthusiast, scenemaker, and troublemaker, she was also one of the original Wild Grrrrls: bawdy, carousing, fiercely independent, unashamedly smart women on the town.  Together, she, Germaine Greer, and Linda Eastman terrorized the city. At least the parts of the city that men frequented.

I met Lillian when I was about sixteen. She had just published The Rock Encyclopedia, and I devoured it, read it cover to cover. This was pre Creem, and almost all there was for music junkies was Hit Parader, Teen Beat, and 16 Magazine. So of course I bought her book. And corrected it. The spirit of the book was wonderful, but the facts were all askew, and for a young trainspotter that was unforgivable. She had John Stewart from the Kingston Trio listed as a member of Buffalo Springfield. Things like that. I sent her about thirty handwritten pages of corrections, and she sent back a note graciously asking if I’d like to work on the second edition with her.

There was no second edition, but she became my patron, taking me off to Max’s Kansas City and to clubs I never could have gotten into, not to mention taking me to all the back rooms and backstage scenes I didn’t even know existed. Read More »


“I Ducked Behind My Paris Review…”

July 8, 2013 | by


This song, “Dear Joseph,” comes courtesy of Australian group t:dy t:wns. As they explain it,

“My friend and I wrote a song about an airplane trip I took where I was distracted from reading my Paris Review by my seat mate, a guy named Joseph, who was very chatty and DEMONSTRATIVELY scared of flying. He was really something.”



The Smiths, Sort of, Do Charles Dickens, Sort Of

June 4, 2013 | by

Herewith, Charles Dickens crossed with Morrissey, for kids. Look, just watch it.



Diamonds Are Forever

May 22, 2013 | by


Ever since I made the mistake of moving away from New York a couple of summers ago, I haven’t been able to spend more than a day or maybe two in the city or in Brooklyn without thinking of the dancing in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Of course there isn’t any actual dancing in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”—it’s a plan they abandon, the diamond-soled girl and the poor boy—but who would come back to the city a little bit older and sadder and think of the long nights on rooftops and not of the way that time collapses when you’re young in New York and in love? She said, “Honey, take me dancing,” and they ended up sleeping in the doorway. Time passes in that line from the start of the night to its aftermath, and the night itself is lost to memory in the way that everyday whimsy and arguments are, especially with wine, especially with pulls as relentless as those of the city’s excitement and of the comforts of new love and home. The doorway is a compromise between the worlds that put them off-balance—the world inside the doorway, and Broadway. She said, “Honey, take me dancing,” and they ended up sleeping in the doorway / By the bodegas and the lights of Upper Broadway.

Wealth: you couldn’t have a story like this of Upper Broadway and not describe the shames and trappings of wealth, the extravagant ludicrousness of having diamonds on the bottoms of your shoes, the thin pretense of trying to hide anything. She’s like a fable, the rich girl. You can hear her playing and taunting, fun and vain, eager to please and anxious to be reassured of what she knows is hardly true.

She said, “You’ve taken me for granted
Because I please you
Wearing these diamonds.”

If she pleases him, it’s not with the diamonds that he has to compensate for, and because she knows this but wishes that she didn’t, she says please in two syllables and diamonds in seven, as if to say how silly—how crazy—it would be to want her wealth, as at least part of him does.

He gets there in the end, wearing diamonds, but not without denial, resentment, and envy. It’s this self-consciousness, if not self-awareness, that rounds the song out into drama. She makes the sign of a teaspoon / He makes the sign of a wave. She plays at doing something, and he, drawn inward, just plays at reaching out to her, but his self-consciousness makes it just the sign of a wave, shy of what he feels is real communication. (Maybe his version of play is a pun like “sine wave,” which, being a pun, feels too embarrassing to say.)

She makes the sign of a teaspoon
He makes the sign of a wave
The poor boy changes clothes
and puts on aftershave
To compensate for his ordinary shoes.

The rhyme with aftershave feels right, but it’s hard to say why. Our ineffable certainty is like that of the poor boy reacting to his anxiety by fixing himself up—likely because it feels right and not because he thinks the uncomfortable thought that he has to compensate. It’s the narrator who thinks that. His interpolation helps to set the characters off-balance with themselves and each other, excited and anxious, ready for the dancing that never happens.

* * *

After the twenty-fifth-anniversary celebration of Graceland last year, I worried that the album was dead. Read More »


Small Wonders

May 9, 2013 | by

nutflakeYou may never have heard of the Small Faces—and that’s perfectly acceptable. There’s a terrible, thirty-minute documentary about the band that you can watch on YouTube, but I don’t recommend it. However, any music fan will tell you that they were one of the greatest and most underrated bands in the history of rock and roll. At their loudest, the Small Faces could rumble and crash even better than the Who. At their slyest, they could preen and knowingly wink with the best of the Rolling Stones. And underneath it all was an intelligence and creative streak that was downright Beatles-esque.

Plus, they had Steve Marriott’s lead vocals, which in the late sixties (before they were later wasted in Humble Pie) were perhaps the best and most evocative instrument in rock and roll this side of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. Needless to say, this all added up to quite a formidable group, one that was capable of making unique and memorable music, which is exactly what the Small Faces did in the spring of 1968 when they released their psychedelic masterpiece, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Read More »