Music

Stories of Excess

Stories of Excess

Turn on the Bright Lights, fifteen years on

Turn on the Bright Lights, now experiencing a well-deserved fifteen-year anniversary celebration, is an album that could definitely while away a wistful witching hour or two. I don’t mean this to sound like bragging: though I was one of its composers, I now feel more like a confused participant, or a survivor of PTSD.

Relating to or Resembling a Peacock

Relating to or Resembling a Peacock

Recent and not-so-recent music

There is perhaps no working musician in whose case the asymmetry between critical accolades and actual musical content is so steep and acute, and so misleading. Stephin Merritt’s music is flat, gray, unmemorable, and “melodic” only in most contrived sense; his melodies seem to scream “I am writing a song in a usually disposable medium that is usually meant for mere entertainment but I am smart and special and this is meant to be real art.”

Oldchella

Oldchella

Desert death trip

Keith Richards is a hero to many of these folks because he had the courage to live out the late-stage consequences of his self-mythologizing without recourse to golf or Xanax, even after his wife got cancer. How many in this desert can say the same? A few, perhaps. Some may count themselves young at heart, but they are clearly in transition, as we all are, beneath the banners of aging and departed greats like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Weiskopf, the golfing champions of yesteryear who lend their names to the streets of PGA West, the gated community with the nicest lawns.

Night’s Nirvana

Night’s Nirvana

On Norwegian Black Metal

A lot of the posed photos are about what you would expect: pig heads set on fire, shrouded band members looming in churchyards at night, or wielding chainsaws, or covered in prop blood. It’s either extremely silly, or very morbid and unholy, depending strongly on whether you also are a teenage boy.

Never a Hippie, Always a Freak

Never a Hippie, Always a Freak

“They write about me like I’m a maniac. I’m not . . . I’m forty years old, I’ve got four kids, a house, and a mortgage.”

When Zappa shows up in a suit and tie debating Robert Novak on Crossfire, the effect is less the ’60s freak who became a normal adult than an uncompromising individual voice channeled into a different format.

Outlaw Country

Outlaw Country

Merle Haggard, 1937–2016

The complexities of Merle Haggard were bound up with the complexities of a baffling political moment, when old rules had been destroyed without new ones being written, a time when everything seemed frustrating but anything seemed possible. But there is nothing inherently redemptive about flux or paradox. It’s nice to know that some George Wallace voters had a kind word for the Communists, just as it’s nice that Haggard followed “Okie from Muskogee” with “Irma Jackson,” a sympathetic portrayal of an interracial romance. But in the end Wallace-style fusion of redistributive populism with open racism crippled progressive politics in this country. There is no reason to forgive Haggard for singing “I ain’t never been on welfare / that’s one place I won’t be,” or “I wasn’t born and raised in no ghetto / just a white boy looking for a place to do my thing.”

Year in Review: 2015

Year in Review: 2015

When the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December for the first time since the onset of the financial crisis, the feeling around the decision was one of somber, even funereal, inevitability. It was hard not to think of the mayor of Amity, assured of the water’s safety, reluctantly leading his citizens back down to the beach. Incidentally, Jaws was released in 1975, the last year that real wages rose. We all know the water isn’t safe, but an economy organized like Amity’s has no choice but to act like it is.

Trials and Error

Trials and Error

Court and the Indian state

The first scene of Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film, Court, opens with a distant view of a makeshift stage in a Bombay slum. Workers have gathered to watch a charismatic Dalit singer, who, backed by vocalists and drummers, belts out jeremiads against the false gods of the age: the greed found in glitzy new shopping malls and the “dense” thickets of racism, nationalism, and caste-ism into which people have fallen.