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07/12/2015

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I haven't read this whole post yet. I'm just absorbing the half or so of what I have read. I liked the first two poems very well. I don't have anything meaningful beyond that to add.

I did, however, find your description of the '60s very moving. Like when I read Peter Hitchens on this, I feel very sad about it.

It was certainly an interesting time to be young.

Other jolly Merwin titles, also I think from The Lice: "For a Coming Extinction," "The Asians Dying."

As in the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times"?

"The Lice" as a title is really unappealing to me!

I thought it was interesting at the time; now, I think it's very boring.

AMDG

Louise, Everytime I see the cover of that book, I want to turn the computer off. Having battled them when my kids were in school, I want to avoid them as much as possible.

AMDG

Heh. Sorry. I don't like the title, either. I guess I could have chosen another of his books. The covers are all similar. But that's my particular favorite, in spite of the title.

I still think it's interesting. Still trying to sort it all out.

One thing that has struck me in recent years, especially since reconnecting (via Facebook) with a few of my old hippie friends, is the extent to which they have kept the faith, so to speak. There's an irony there: "change" was one of our demands, but I've changed more than they have, at least in my thinking.

I think you are right about that--your changing more. My old hippie friends are very predictable. I guess that's what I mean about boring. What is interesting is the factors that played into everything that happened, but the party line is boring.

AMDG

There was some pretty good music in the 1960s.

Indeed. And though I'm not one of those who thinks nothing very good came after 1971 or so, it is true that most of what's come since is...I hate to use the word "derivative", but it does use the same basic methods and vocabulary.

The problem with 60s (pop) music is that it was often technically not very good. Not only was the recording technology "primitive," but the musicians sometimes not very competent, much less virtuosos. I can hardly listen to the Rolling Stones. I've even come to believe that the Beatles were musical geniuses, but they were inhibited by their relatively limited technical skill on their instruments. Had they been classically trained....

I think both recording technology and instrumental competence improved post 1971. But the spark wasn't as much there with exceptions. Like, Norah Jones is cool. Derivative, perhaps, but still cool.

And if someone mentions U2 in their response, I'll just say I can't stand them. I prefer spacey pretentiousness ("Yes") to self-righteous pretentiousness.

Of course, 60s music is not what this post is about. Sorry.

I remember when I was in my early teens, Segovia said something derogatory about the Beatles and I was incensed. ;-) Later on I figured out he was right.

AMDG

Music is never off-topic here, Robert.

People tried so hard on the pro-Beatles-et.al. side to claim musical brilliance in the technical sense for them. But it just wasn't true. It's the wrong standard to judge them by. Paul McCartney, for instance, is/was a gifted melodist by any standard, but that doesn't mean he should be mentioned alongside Mozart.

I'm sorry, but Nora Jones is boring to me. Nice but boring. U2--well, I like some of their stuff quite a lot, but it hit me while listening to The Joshua Tree a few years ago that they have never made an album I liked all the way through. And it's funny how much they annoy people sometimes (including me).

I'm a sucker for female singers.

None of the Beatles hold a candle to the worst of Mozart or any of the top 100 classical composers. They are just IN COMMAND.

And people like those blues-based guitarists that Maclin likes so much are miles beyond the Beatles as well, even though I don't care for them.

Two things opened my eyes about the Beatles. No: three. First, for the past two years I've been listening to a LOT of classical music with my kids, including doing a lot of self-education on music theory. Second, Chet Atkins. Third, that SHEL album that Mac doesn't care much for is the FIRST album of a bunch of young girls. It is technical and compositionally a long way beyond what the Beatles were able to accomplish only after several albums. Plus, they are better instrumentalists. And I don't even think they are that great. You want great instrumentalists, go to Chris Thile, Natalie MacMaster and April Verch.

And I LOVE the Beatles and always will.

I agree with you about Paul. I think at his best he was the equal of the great melodists from the American Songbook era. He also was able to produce reams of schlock.

In 1967, Leonard Bernstein had a special on CBS, Inside Pop--The Rock Revolution, in which he gave 60s music his imprimatur, or to at least what he said was the good five percent of it. I remember watching it and that afterwards some of my musically trained friends who had previously disdained rock, changed their minds about it. At the time, Bernstein was, as Trump would say, "yuge" in the U.S., largely I think because of his Young People's Concerts on TV, so his approval was a pretty big deal.

You can watch the video of the show here.

I remember, probably somewhere around that time, reading that Bernstein (pretty sure it was Bernstein) compared "Love Me Do" to something in Hindu music. Although I didn't know anything about music, I distinctly remember thinking that was just silly. And condescending.

I thought I liked SHEL, Robert. I don't remember hearing the whole album, but I seem to remember being impressed with their talent. I've never heard of those other three you name.

I think you underestimate the Stones. Or should I say misunderestimate? It's true they're not as musically inventive as the Beatles, but they have something else. I happen to have heard "Satisfaction" this afternoon, for the first time in who knows how many years, and was really struck by how much was going on, especially rhythmically. The Beatles sound stiff in comparison. Not that I care much for that song (anymore), or even listen to the Stones very often. I think they peaked around 1967.

Oh. I think it was something you said on FB that made me think you weren't convinced about SHEL.

I don't underestimate the Stones. They were great at what they did. I just don't think what they did was great, even if there were moments of genius. I remember liking Some Girls very much. That was the only Stones album I ever owned.

It is their production that I really didn't like. It seemed intentionally out of tune, which might work as a gimmick, but which gets tiring as a modus operandi.

Chris Thile is the mandolin player for Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers. He is replacing Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion next year. Natalie MacMaster and April Verch are Canadian fiddlers. Verch has a gorgeous voice. There aren't any good Verch videos on YouTube, but the album I like, if it is on Rdio, is Steal the Blue. I esp. like "Slip Away," which makes me cry, "I might have one, too," and her version of "He's holding on to me."

They both clog brilliantly.

Maybe it was your list of albums that you said were flawless (more or less--I don't know if you used that word)? I said that of the ones I'd heard I didn't think they were flawless, but I wasn't counting SHEL among those. As far as I remember I haven't heard their album. I may be forgetting but I was thinking I'd only heard one or two songs, and those were very good.

Well, I didn't mean to say they were flawless. I meant to say that I, Robert Gotcher, could listen to them as a whole with pleasure. No duds for me and a certain pleasing coherence.

There may be one B52s song I don't care for. It has been too long since I listened to it much for me to be sure.

"They were great at what they did. I just don't think what they did was great"

I'd pretty much agree with that. As for their being out of tune--I don't know if it was deliberate or not, but one thing I've always liked about their music is that it somehow has a loose, rough-around-the-edges feel while at the same time having a tight groove and a lot of energy (talking about their 1970-and-earlier stuff). Must be a very fine line there.

I heard a singer just a couple of days ago who struck me as fairly spectacular: Rhiannon Giddens. Ever heard of here? I don't know what her music as a whole is like, but what a voice...

More later, but re: U2, I loved their first two albums -- I was in college at that time and I played them constantly. Was less impressed with the next couple, then basically gave up on them after that.

(Had the same basic experience with REM -- loved the first three records, was disappointed with the next couple, then stopped paying attention.)

I still listen to those REM albums fairly often (they hold up well) but the U2, not so much. They seem to have caught the spirit of that particular time, like some similar late 70s/early 80s bands, but frankly, many of those acts weren't really all that good, musically speaking. In retrospect I think maybe it was more about the vitality than the actual music.


Your REM experience is one I've had with many artists over the years. There just aren't that many who can maintain a high level of quality. I liked those early REM albums a lot, too, but haven't heard them for a long time (decades) so I don't know if I'd like them now or not. U2 were more of a mixed bag: I do like some of their stuff quite a lot, and their earlier stuff better, but it seemed like every album had a fairly high percentage of songs I didn't care much for. Haven't heard Boy or October for many many years.

I remember a friend of mine in the music business telling me that one of the big changes in album recording was when the producer Don Was started getting artists to frontload their records with the strong tracks instead of creating records that were strong and cohesive all the way through. Not sure exactly when that happened (mid 80s?) but from that point on you had a lot of records on which the first three or four tracks were really strong, but then the rest were not as good.

The logic was that the radio stations when sampling a record for airplay would play the first 30 seconds of the first three or four tracks, and if there wasn't a 'grabber' there, they'd file the album away. So the strong stuff had to come first.

And Mozart just churned it out and churned it out and churned it out. What's up with that?

Rhiannon Giddens.

Interesting, but not my taste. I go more into "sweet," "mellow," or "sultry."

There was some sweet, mellow, and sultry in what I heard, but she can certainly turn it up.

Pop music has come full circle. In the '50s and well into the '60s, the 45rpm single was king, and albums were sort of an afterthought. They would include the big single(s) and a bunch of filler. Then in the mid-'60s artists began to produce the album as we know it. I guess the Beatles were the big game-changers there. At first it was almost a bit eccentric to buy whole albums. Then 15 years or so ago with distribution by mp3 the album began to fall apart again. I guess the industry has always been driven by hit singles, hence the Don Was strategy while album sales were still strong. When did the vinyl single disappear? Was there ever a viable market for single CDs? They're kind of a stupid concept, since the medium is the same. But if that's true about the deliberate mediocre-izing of albums it probably helped make people happier to be able to buy singles again.

I tend to be pretty stingy about using the word "genius" but if anybody ever merited the term it was Mozart. Freak of nature, really.

I'll have to look up Giddens. I've heard the name but that's it.

With vocalists nowadays the listener has to be very aware of Auto-tune when judging the singer's quality. This was brought home to me in listening to Florence Welch of 'Florence + The Machine.' I first heard the song "Dog Days Are Over" about three years ago and liked it a lot. The singer had a great voice. I then found out that they had a new album out (the song I heard was from an older one) so I bought it -- Ceremonials. Really liked it. Until I started checking out their live performances. Ms. Welch's pipes just weren't up to par. She couldn't hit many of the high notes like she did on the records, and she was often quite flat to boot. My conclusion was that there was a whole lot of auto-tuning going on.

In short, anyone nowadays can be made to sound good on recordings. The real proof of quality is in live performance.

re: "solid" albums, two recent favorites would be The National's High Violet (2010) and last year's Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs. I listen to both often and there are no tracks on either that I skip.

Beirut's Rip Tide is also really good. It's a short record of just nine songs but there is only one track on it that I don't like.

"The real proof of quality is in live performance." I noticed that April Verch's live recordings on YouTube ain't that great. Maybe she's autotuned, too.

The War On Drugs got all sorts of raves from people on eMusic. Haven't heard them though. I have one album by The National but can't remember whether that's it or not--it's the one with the "blood" song about Ohio. Anyway, it's good, although I seem to recall feeling that there was something missing somehow.

The context in which I heard Rhiannon Giddens is a documentary called Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued. I recorded it off tv some time ago and just watched it this past week. Strange idea: T-Bone Burnett gathered a group of (mostly) young artists to write and record songs using a lot of lyrics Dylan scribbled during the Basement Tapes period and never used. I only caught about 2/3 of the documentary but what I saw was quite interesting. link.

Giddens btw is/was part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group of whom I've heard only a little and wanted to hear more.

"it's the one with the 'blood' song about Ohio."

Yeah, that's the one. I like that whole record.

I must've heard her name in connection with the Dylan thing. The little I've heard of the Drops I like.

War on Drugs is an interesting band. At times the lead guy seems to be channeling Dylan or Tom Petty, but not always, and there's also a distinct 80s vibe (mostly guitar) to it. You can spot some of the influences but they're putting it all together into something pretty unique, so it all sounds familiar and new at the same time. And I like the fact that they don't hurry the songs -- some of them run six or seven minutes with long instrumental breaks or outros.

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