Wearing my “rock.com” t-shirt today and feel happy and confident. For eons it stayed stashed away in a box because it represented an exciting professional future that never came to pass. I was haunted by the feeling that we made mistakes, if we’d only caught a couple lucky breaks, the operation could have been a thumping success. After all, we were unbound by print from the start. But the Leviathan future for the internet now looks inevitable and Google and Amazon stand revealed as mean as any giants.
Now I simply remember the fun. Best salary I ever made. Tickled to be headed into work every day. Talk directly to the wondrous music fans.
I’ll do the standard (and necessary) bit right off: Yes, Irma Thomas is a peer of Aretha and Etta, and would be as well known as they are if she had hooked up with Atlantic or Chess. But she’s had a full and lengthy career nonetheless.
But it’s Wish Someone Would Care (Imperial, 1964) that I want to celebrate here. One of only two LPs she released in the ’60s, the title track is also her biggest hit, scoring #17 in 1964. This is also one of the true forgotten, near-perfect albums. I came across a copy shortly after I moved to Cambridge (must have been Cheapo Records) and fell insane love with it. Played it every day for long stretches. I was most sustained, even rescued, by that title track, which is quite an unusual number. Instead of longing for love, it’s a lament about loneliness and isolation that’s almost existential. Do a search and you will hear what I mean.
She was singing straight to my heart.
Final confession: I did not spin Wish Someone Would Care to prepare for this post. One of those very unfortunate situations where a wonderful record that uplifted you during very hard times does not get played because it takes you right back there.
Still, thanks, Ms. Thomas — we really had a thing going.
… that I also consider counterproductive for the music they concern.
- This weird, pious atmosphere that keeps attaching itself to pre-electric country blues. This is sacred stuff, man, esp. treasured because “non-commercial.” Reminds me of the worst aspects of the early-’60s folk revival. Didn’t Bob Dylan point out that that sort of reverence was a dead end?
- A closely related effect applies internationally. That the purest, noncommercial folk forms from the most isolated corners of the land are the true music of the place. Genius innovations from city performers are just tainted junk.
- The only time anybody wants to play, listen to, or write about reggae and offshoots is during the hottest weeks of the summer.
As I’ve said before I’ve never been more uncertain that I hear all the releases I should every year. The outlets and information sources have never been so scattered. I’ve never felt so many PR providers have no idea what I cover.
But every year I hit a point, usually around this time or a little later, when I conclude that enough innovative, captivating and durable music is being produced to keep me jiggling for another year. Here’s the three that put me over in 2017 (all played for the first time in the last few days):
Bearthoven, Trios (Cantaloupe) Karl Larson piano, Pat Swoboda bass, Matt Evens percussion/drums. Six piece belonging to the vague New Music category, the only writers I know at all being Anthony Vine. Best effect: breaks ways loose of the often too-cozy tent of piano-trio sound.
Jay Som, Everybody Works (Polyvinyl). Jay Som belongs to the vague bedroom pop category and is a solo project of Melisa Duterte, with a few added voices. A fresh twist of intimacy and a needed reminder that all single-soul projects don’t have to sound stunted or samey.
Migos, Culture (Quality Control). I don’t pretend to keep up with hip-hop like I should, but I’m still abashed this trio slipped under my radar until now. In the grand tradition of Atlanta rappers, they’re rootsy and funny and sensual and casually scary at times. Still probing the personalities.
A decent enough farewell piece (I was directed to it by a tweet from London Lee). But I think one of the five points is particularly bad and one particularly relevant and telling.
The first point is the clanger. “It’s a myth that critics could make someone popular.” WHAT!?! — If this is a major insight to you, you don’t understand what criticism does. The “make popular” tripe is just another duff variant on the canard that “critics tell people what to like.” Good criticism deepens your appreciation and understanding of what you listen to — and if an ace critic can’t turn you on to something fresh that you love, your tastes are too narrow to need criticism, anyway.
Although I’m not certain I know what’s going on with the second half of the first point — what are these “stories” exactly? — it seems to say: “serious criticism is out, backstory and profiles are in.” Nothing new about that — been Rolling Stone‘s basic agenda for 40 years.
The fifth point is the winner. I agree with every word about the dire narrowing of styles and experiences. I have spent my entire career trying to avoid situations where I would have to write about a performer for the fifth time — who cares if I had anything new to say — because everybody else is doing it and their latest release has really hot sales right now. I think it’s inevitable that fewer and fewer people will become passionately engage with music — there’s no adventure, no jolts, it’s boring.
Can’t be said often enough about a peculiar phenomenon I have never understood. The sex-terrified reactionaries of the ’50s wanted rock and roll to just go away — by banning if necessary. Send that monster Elvis into the Army. Send that threat to white women Chuck Berry to jail.
And damned if it didn’t work in a funhouse-mirror way. The rock of the British Invasion and later (up to a point) is annoyingly present (just consider the nonstop soundtrack we had to put up with while the car was worked on this Sat. — maybe the single most painful part was the inclusion of “I Wanna Be Sedated” like it was the hit it shoulda been). But the whole original wave of rockers is neglected except for oldies moments.
C’mon everybody (ahem), you can program that stuff right in with the Boss and related acts.
Thorough obit with fine quote from DJ Shadow — who was clearly influenced. At least the Axe was rediscovered and enjoyed a good curtain call. A serious record collection needs some of his work, though I would argue he’s best heard in anthology setting — mine is David Axelrod 1968 to 1970 An Anthology (Stateside, 1999).