Category Music

A Deep Ache of Laughter: On the Razor’s Edge With Loudon Wainwright

One of the widely regarded hallmarks of great art is that it be honest and authentic, a true expression of the artist’s unique vision. The best art probes, focuses, explores, suggests, reveals. Sometimes that exploration and self-revelation plunges the artist too near scalding depths of pain and suffering, and the laying bare becomes too intense. The solace of drink, drugs, and the ultimate self-destructive behavior of suicide may then beckon.  (Van Gogh, Rothko, Hemingway, Plath, Woolf, Sexton, Morrison, Joplin, Cobain, Robin Williams; it’s a long casualty list.)

Among contemporary artists in whatever genre, probably none explore their demons with quite the unflinching, ruthless honesty of singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III. (Those roman numerals loom large in his history; more on that below.)


From down here in the audience, it doesn’t look easy being Wainwright, whom I saw from two rows back...

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Fourth Annual “Songs of Summer”

Today’s summer solstice accompanied by tonight’s full moon: yes, our cup may just be in danger of overflowing. Whether this confluence signals the beginning or end of some kind of SuperDuperNatural Age of Aquarius or some other magic moment in time, I do not know. What I do know is that I’m happy, at this age, to be offering a “Fourth Annual” anything, and hopeful we can all be upright and ready to boogie again for a few more “annual” this-or-thats still to come.

And so: the envelopes, please, for this ritual of the season, which this year blends wistfulness and nostalgia, pop fun and insouciance, rock spectacle, camp and more. And in case you’re wondering why your own fave summer-themed song isn’t here,  you might check the three previous compilations, to any of which you are invited to sing along while taking a few twirls around your kitchen. I bet you’d look just grand doing so with the full moon.

*...

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Happy Centennial, Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra turned 100 years old yesterday, and there was ballyhoo aplenty in the media and various entertainment circles taking note of the occasion.

Not that Frank was alive to hear the accolades, but as famously dismissive as he most always was of praise and the gushings of adoring fans, he surely would have been pleased that the scrawny Mama’s Boy From Hoboken that he was left a body of work behind that would be duly noted and celebrated 100 years after his birth.

And such an unscrawny body of work it was!

Just one of the notable aspects of Sirius Radio’s channel 71—aka “All Sinatra All the Time”—is that the 24/7 airing of Sinatra songs seems to repeat itself as little as it does. (A small percentage of the tunes are actually sung by “Sinatra era” compatriots such as Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr...

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Crossing Over: Three Classical Music Tunes That Became Pop Hits

“Rhythm stirs our bodies. Tonality and melody stir our brains.” So writes Daniel J. Levitin in This Is Your Brain on Music.

I find myself wondering why he didn’t say “brains and hearts” about tonality and melody, given their powerful capacity to inspire, stir and deepen human emotion.

I know that rhythm goes right back to the heartbeat of the mother who begat us, and is central to our moving about in this life. Rhythm plays a key role in my own writing as well—each sentence has to match some internal hop-and-skip-along, and if it doesn’t, I discard it until the feel is right. If it feels clunky rhythmically, it goes.

That said, in music, I’m a melody man, which is why rap, with its 100 percent rhythm, and modern classical music, with its disdain for tone and melody, leave me mostly unmoved. They can be “interesting” intellectual exercises, but honing my intellect is not why I listen to music...

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Amy Winehouse’s Cry From the Depths of Creation

At one point in the current documentary (Amy) of the gifted and tortured singer Amy Winehouse, she was so deeply submerged in her partly guttural/feral, partly ravishing/seductive treatment of a song, digging into it with such resonant and startling ferocity, that I exclaimed to myself there in the dark of the theater, “My God, that voice is from the depths of creation!”

True enough, but the surpassingly sad part of that voice is all the pain and self-torture that it was built upon, quite aside from the God-given gifts of raw vocal power it had been bequeathed.

For truly, Amy Winehouse’s voice and career and downward spiral of a life stand as an unanswered cry against the multiple and relentless outrages of existence, all the forces that seem to line up with special anticipation and glee when a soul at once so sensitive, talented, raw and ultimately, fragile, presents itself to us.

There are plenty of ...

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