The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘songs’

Mr. Brooks

July 8, 2016 | by

From the cover of In Pieces.

I saw Garth—that’s what we called him, just Garth—with three friends when we were in the fourth grade, maybe fifth. He was touring in support of 1993’s In Pieces album. A Nashville native, I had been listening to country music for as long as I could listen, but Garth was the artist that had turned me from a passive listener into an enthusiast. My grandfather had had Johnny Cash, my parents Alabama. But Garth, Garth was mine.

As far as they were concerned, I could have him. When the guitar arpeggio at the start of “Friends in Low Places,” his first hit, came over the radio, my parents would switch the dial from 97.9, which played Top 40 country, to 95.5, which played the classic stuff. “Blame it all on my roots / I showed up in boots,” Garth sang, in a lyric that seemed to announce a changing of the guard, “and ruined your black tie affair.” Read More »

The Color of Dirty Death, and Other News

June 20, 2016 | by

The ugliest color of them all.

  • Start your week off right: take a long, hard look at the world’s ugliest color, Pantone 448C, aka “opaque couché.” Redolent of baby shit and capable of summoning all kinds of grime in the mind’s eye, 448C is powerfully ugly: “The agency GfK Bluemoon had 1,000 smokers select the colors they found most visually repellent. Respondents overwhelmingly associated Pantone 448C with words like dirty, death, and tar. The Australian federal government initially referred to the color as ‘olive green,’ but changed their terminology to ‘drab dark brown’ after the Australian Olive Association expressed concern for the reputation of olives. After the study, Australia made Pantone 448C the predominant color on its mandatory plain packaging for tobacco products … Since 2012, smoking in Australia has, in fact, decreased.”
  • Talking with Sofiane Hadjadj, cofounder of the Algerian publishing house Editions Barzakh, at a bookseller in Algiers: “Young Algerians are eager to write, but most see it ‘as a form of therapy’, Hadjadj said (not unlike their counterparts in Europe and America). There aren’t many who can both describe their daily reality and achieve the necessary distance to transform it into narrative … Arabic literature generally is at an ‘inflection point’, according to Hadjadj. The great leftist writers of the 1960s, such as Elias Khoury and Sonallah Ibrahim, who had a strong vision of society, have been succeeded by a generation with more questions. ‘Should one write about oneself, about the world, about globalization, about jihadism?’ Hadjadj asked. ‘You need a somewhat stable vision of society to write a novel, but it is changing all the time, and we don’t understand it.’ ”
  • Francis Alÿs’s new paintings depict life in Ciudad Juárez, so to look at them is to ask that age-old question: Is art at all useful in helping us come to grips with massive acts of violence and suffering? “It might seem unlikely that an artist like Francis Alÿs would be able to engage in any meaningful way with life in Ciudad Juárez. He is known for a poetic and absurdist mentality, sending a peacock as his representative to the Venice Biennial of 2001, for example, or arranging for a troop of Household Cavalry to march through the center of London in 2004. Yet the sensitive and understated works on display here pack a powerful punch … The centerpiece of the exhibition is a striking film of Mr. Alÿs slowly kicking a flaming football through the dark night of downtown Ciudad Juárez, attracting stares from locals and scaring away stray dogs as police sirens wail in the distance. The vision is haunting, and the details picked up by the camera as it tracks his progress make reference to the city’s many problems: the sex trade, the drug trade, the ambiguous role played by the police. Perhaps the beautiful but oblique film is guilty, as Sartre put it, of reducing cruelty to the abstract. But then so do statistics.”
  • Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire are remembered for their Book of Greek Myths, from 1962—one of the most popular children’s books of all time. But they made a much less well-known book about America, too, and it’s appropriately mythic: “ ‘Virginia was once a wilderness,’ the D’Aulaires write. ‘Wild beasts lived there, and swift Indians ran through grass and swamps’ … Columbus’ story gets treated even more like a fairy tale. ‘There once was a boy / who loved the salty sea,’ it begins … Like any mythological hero, the D’Aulaires’ George Washington has powers beyond those of ordinary men. He’s stronger than other boys and rides his horse more skillfully. He can hurl a rock across the width of the river. He’s shot, but unharmed. Lincoln is also demigod-like, when they tell of how he ‘wrestled with the strongest and toughest of them all, and threw them to the ground.’ ”
  • Today in the ironies of intellectual-property law: a new suit contends that Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” belongs, in fact, to us, just as the land supposedly does. But all the land in America isn’t actually in the public domain, and the song might not be, either. “[The suit] is aimed at liberating a song known to generations of schoolchildren who have raised their voices to sing about a free country belonging to one and all, sprawling ‘from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters’ … Guthrie wrote the song in 1940 in response to the Irving Berlin song ‘God Bless America,’ which he felt inadequately addressed land and wealth inequality … In 1945, he published the song with a copyright notice that was never renewed … As a result, that copyright would have expired—and the song would have entered the public domain—twenty-eight years later, in 1973.”

The Songs We’re Stuck With

May 13, 2016 | by

Real McCoy.

At a coffee shop, standing on line (because I’m a New Yorker, and for some reason that’s where we stand with lines—on them, never in them), I began to cry. This in itself was not so extraordinary—the mascara has not yet been invented that’s proof against my tears—but this jag happened to be music related. The José Gonzalez cover of “Heartbeats” had come on the sound system, and the time-machine jolt to 2006 was so sudden that my body didn’t know how to respond except with tears, although it wasn’t grief I felt. Read More »

The Song Stuck in My Head

April 15, 2016 | by

Life is but a day:
A fragile dewdrop on its perilious way
From a tree’s summit
—John Keats

Last night I heard the singer-songwriter Emmy the Great cover “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” It was beautiful. That song is one that lends itself to covers: resolutely gorgeous, flexible enough to allow for interpretation, but always essentially itself. Whether it’s Cat Power, Richard Thompson, Eva Cassidy, or the cast of Pretty Little Liars singing the ballad, the mix of melancholy reflection and bursts of pure feeling can never be less than stunning. (Okay, maybe the Pretty Little Liars version doesn’t quite get there.) Read More »

Worst. Kid. Song. Ever.

March 28, 2016 | by

The other day, my husband and I were talking about putting together a playlist for our nieces: a list of empowering, kid-appropriate songs in which women were treated with respect. We had fun thinking of titles: Aretha and All Hail the Queen and plenty of Dolly, for sure. But also Belle and Sebastian and sixties Brit pop. I started a Spotify station based on “I’m Into Something Good” because I’ve always thought the lines “So I asked to see her again / And she told me I could” were sweet.

And then, from this place of idealism, came perhaps the most inappropriate song to place on a little girl’s playlist ever written. 1964’s “Little Children,” which was a number-one UK hit for Billy Jay Kramer and went on to chart at number seven Stateside. Read More »

Branded Man

March 23, 2016 | by

The long tradition of outlaw poets.

From the cover of Merle Haggard’s Branded Man, 1967.

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on Austin Reed’s The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict, here.

Early in the first volume of Panegyric—the bad-tempered, ironically self-deprecating eulogy he wrote for himself in the late eighties­—Guy Debord sang the praises of a kind of writer he knew he could never become. “There have always been artists and poets capable of living in violence,” he wrote. “The impatient Marlowe died, knife in hand, arguing over a tavern bill.” Five hundred years earlier, in the picture Debord goes on to imagine, the medieval poet François Villon presided over a cluster of writers who lived raggedly and riskily at the banks of the Seine. These were outlaw poets, “devotees of the dangerous life”­—starved, browbeaten figures for whom pariahdom, persecution, imprisonment and homelessness were both facts of life and the materials out of which they made their art.

Outlaw poets are what certain prison writers become when their term is up—when they’ve been let loose into a world that spurns them and whose values they reject. In some cases, the poetry they write from this position turns out bitter, sour, and defiantly indigestible, full of lines that dare their civilized, comfortable readers to tolerate rude language, unhinged imagery, and wild variations in refinement and shape. In others, it comes off as a seductive, pining lament, a plea for pardon or a performance of rueful self-blame. Some of the great outlaw poets shuffle unpredictably between these two tones. “I’d like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am,” Merle Haggard sang in 1967, less than a decade after the end of his two-year term in San Quentin: “but they won’t let my secret go untold; / I paid the debt I owed ’em, / but they’re still not satisfied; / Now I’m a branded man / out in the cold.” He could write an equally convincing song that placed the fault on precisely the opposite side: “Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied; / that leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried.” Read More »