The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘music’

Alone Together

January 8, 2015 | by

On D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and the disappearance of R&B groups.

blackmessiah

From the cover of Black Messiah.

The last number-one R&B single from a group was “Independent Women,” by Destiny’s Child. Since it slipped from Billboard’s top slot in January 2001, only solo acts have held the position.* Groups have all but disappeared from the mainstream in every genre, but their absence is especially apparent in R&B, where, in 1994, for instance, four of the ten number-one singles were by groups, and in 1974, thirteen R&B groups made it to the top of the charts. Now, zero—for fifteen years, solo artists have dominated music. Who knew the thesis of Bowling Alone applied even to this, our most collaborative art form?

Anyone can rattle off the names of big R&B groups: Earth Wind & Fire, the Isley Brothers, TLC, Boyz II Men, the Supremes, the Pointer Sisters, the Force MDs, Jodeci, and on and on. What these groups foregrounded—and what’s noticeably lacking in present-day R&B—were vocal harmonies. Obviously the Top 40 is still loaded with backup singers; I don’t mean to say that vocal harmony has gone extinct. But a certain kind of performance has gone missing from the charts, a choral style for trios, quartets, or quintets, where the harmony was just as essential as the melody. In songs like these, you could hear the genre’s connection to jazz and especially to gospel.

Not that you have to be a music scholar to enjoy the sound of people singing together. At the risk of getting all Kumbaya about it, isn’t it just sort of nice to hear voices working in harmony? To me, the sound of a group has always been more approachable than that of a soloist—a collective is bound to be more welcoming than an individual, especially if they’re a collective of really pretty voices. I think pop music at the moment is as inventive as it’s ever been, but still: Where have our great R&B groups gone, and why have they ceased to capture the public imagination? Read More »

6 COMMENTS

An Absolute Truth: On Writing a Life of Coltrane

December 22, 2014 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

John_Coltrane_1963

A few years ago I found a used, first-edition hardcover of Dr. Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins’s 1975 book, Coltrane: A Biography, online for $150. I had long admired its feverish, street-pulpy story about the saxophonist John Coltrane, whose powerful music increasingly seemed capable of altering one’s consciousness before he died in 1967, at age forty. Posthumously, the mythology and exaltation of Coltrane, as well as his musical influence, only grew. But by that point, Simpkins had already researched and written Coltrane’s story, expressing an uncompromising, unapologetic black voice rarely found in the annals of jazz before or since.

I forked up the money for the hardback. The dust jacket bears an impressionistic black-and-white painting of Coltrane playing soprano saxophone. The rounded, sans serif font resembles that of Soul Train, the popular TV show that premiered in 1971. On the back cover is a photograph of a young, Simpkins sporting a West African dashiki shirt, a high Afro, thick sideburns, and a beard.

Simpkins’s idea for the book was conceived during his senior year at Amherst, in 1969; he worked on it during breaks from Harvard Medical School in the early seventies. Simpkins possessed no credentials in jazz or literature. The publisher of the original hardcover is Herndon House; quick Google and Library of Congress searches yield no other books from that publisher. There are identical typographical errors in all three editions—first and second hardback, and paperback. (Sarah Vaughan’s name, for instance, is spelled once as “Vaughn,” and Nesuhi Ertegun appears as “Nehusi.”) All indications point to the book having been self-published, the original piece preserved in two later editions. Read More >>

Amiri’s Green Chim Chim-knees Growth Tribe

December 18, 2014 | by

Baraka Maya Toni

Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison at James Baldwin’s funeral, 1987. Photo: Thomas Sayers Ellis

Thomas Sayers Ellis’s poem “Polo Goes to the Moon”—an elegy for the bounce-beat go-go music pioneer Reggie Burwell—appeared in The Paris Review No. 209 earlier this year. Now he’s recorded a spoken-word version in “Amiri’s Green Chim Chim-knees Growth Tribe,” part of a tribute to Amiri Baraka to be released next year by Heroes Are Gang Leaders. Give it a listen above.

After Baraka died in January, Ellis and his frequent collaborator James Brandon Lewis formed Heroes Are Gang Leaders, a group of poets and musicians. They recorded the album over three six-hour sessions. Ellis calls it “a signifying groove head-nod to Mr. Baraka,” influenced by Thelonious Monk and A Tribe Called Quest.

The text of “Polo Goes to the Moon” is below. Read More »

3 COMMENTS

Boudoirs of the Future

December 8, 2014 | by

tumblr_lvwjs7kyxE1qzn0deo1_1280

Schwartz, date unknown.

Delmore Schwartz was born on this day in 1913. The below is from a letter he sent to his publisher, James Laughlin of New Directions, on May 8, 1951; it’s extracted from a series of their correspondence published in our Summer 1992 issue. A few years after this letter, in 1953, Laughlin dissolved his business relationship with Schwartz, who had succumbed to neurosis and paranoia, early signs of which are visible here. By the early sixties, Schwartz had cut off nearly all his friendships and started to drink heavily. He died in 1966.

I have decided not to be a bank clerk, after all, since I would probably be paralyzed by the conflict between my desire to steal money and my fear of doing so.

It was pleasant to learn that you expected our correspondence to be read in the international salons and boudoirs of the future. Do you think they will be able to distinguish between the obfuscations, mystification, efforts at humor, and plain statement of fact? Will they recognize my primary feelings as a correspondent—the catacomb from which I write to you, seeking to secure some word from the real world, or at least news of the Far West—and sigh with compassion? Or will they just think I am nasty, an over-eager clown, gauche, awkward and bookish? Will they understand that I am always direct, open, friendly, simple and candid to the point of naïveté until the ways of the fiendish world infuriate me and I am poked to be devious, suspicious, calculating, not that it does me any good anyway? And for that matter, what will they make of your complex character?

It develops that the jukeboxes in bars now have an item entitled Silence, which costs a nickel, just like Music. This can only lead to drunken disputations between those who want Silence and those who will be goddamned if they can’t have a little Music with their beer.

The Giants, after losing eleven straight and thus preventing me from buying the newspaper for eleven days, defeated Pittsburgh twice in three days, which made me reflect on the fact that I have been a Giants rooter for thirty years: the expense of spirit in a waste of games.

Yours,

Delmore

NO COMMENTS

Is There a Vespa?: An Interview with Michael Hofmann

December 4, 2014 | by

Hofmann, Michael (C) Thomas Andenmatten

Photo © Thomas Andenmatten

Michael Hofmann’s first collection of poems, Nights in the Iron Hotel, came in 1984, and in the ensuing thirty years he has translated more than sixty novels from the German and published five more poetry collections, along the way collecting numerous prizes for his work. He is the editor of an anthology, Twentieth-Century German Poetry, and in 2002 published a collection of critical essays, Behind the Lines. (This is far from a comprehensive accounting.) The thirty essays in his new collection, Where Have You Been?, visit a range of poets, novelists, and artists of the last hundred years, including Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Thomas Bernhard, Kurt Schwitters, and Frederick Seidel.

Hofmann’s essays are intense inquiries: he tunnels deeply, engages profoundly, and whether or not he likes what he’s read or seen, his essays ennoble the work under review. There’s a sense of humor, even joy, electrifying the enterprise. Of course, his criticism can pulverize, too—Günter Grass and Stefan Zweig are destroyed in Where Have You Been?—but most of Hofmann’s selections tend toward the form of one reader grabbing another’s sleeve and shouting, Come on now, this way! You’ve got to see this!

Though Hofmann doesn’t keep a computer at home—“usual Luddite setup,” he said at one point—this interview was conducted over e-mail. On a couple of occasions, he wrote from a stand-up terminal in a municipal library.

You’ve written that contemporary American poetry is “a civil war, a banal derby between two awful teams.” In Britain, it’s “a variety show.” These are grim assessments.

Discouraging, isn’t it? It’s just a fact that there are never very many poets around at any given time. I think poetry is always one or two poets away from extinction anyway. If it’s any comfort, it’s not a living tradition—it doesn’t depend on being passed from hand to hand. It could easily go underground for a couple of decades, or a couple of centuries, and then return. People disappear, or never really existed at all, and then come back—Propertius, Hölderlin, Dickinson, Büchner, Smart. Poetry is much more about remaking or realigning the past than it is about charting the contemporary scene. It’s a long game. Read More »

3 COMMENTS

Hard and Fast

December 1, 2014 | by

Don’t ask. (From the V Squared ad.)

If, by any chance, you read the print edition of the Sunday New York Times, as I did around two in the morning, perhaps you, too, were arrested by the full-page advertisement on A23. 11-YEAR-OLD, TWIN ROCKERS, VITTORIO AND VINCENZO OF V² SWEEP LOS ANGELES MUSIC AWARDS! blares the headline. There are seven accompanying photographs. “V² rocked the Avalon Theater, leaving no doubt that they owned the night and their 7 nomination categories,” reads one caption. “Standing ‘O’ for Vittorio and Vincenzo, 11-year-old superstars!” says another. The picture is of a bunch of grown-ups; one of them is sort of standing up. 

The text is laid out like a news story:

Rock N Roll history was made by Santa Rosa, CA home grown rock sensations, Vittorio and Vincenzo of V² (pronounced V Squared). The boys, who only started playing music a few years ago at Rock Star University, Santa Rosa, became the youngest artists to ever perform at the Los Angeles Music Awards, thrilling the sold out crowd of Hollywood celebrities, music industry executives, and music fans lucky enough to secure a ticket to see these future Rock N Roll Hall of Famers perform. Vittorio and Vincenzo did not disappoint.

Who are these future rock-and-roll hall of famers? Who are their parents? What’s Rock Star University—and who had they beaten out for LA Music Award domination? Naturally, I switched on my phone to find out. After all, by this hour, I assumed, this weird vanity project would have at least put a dent in the Internet. Read More »

13 COMMENTS