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“Before playing guitar for Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley,” John Kruth writes at the Observer, “Gary Lucas worked as a copywriter for CBS/Epic Records,” where he fell in love with a punk band called the Clash, just signed to the label in 1977. “They weren’t easy to work with,” he remembered. “Like Frank Zappa, they spoke about politics, government and corporate interference with radio. They were, as I said, when I came up with the slogan to promote the album: ‘The only group that matters.’”
The slogan stuck and has become something more than marketing hype. Of the slew of British punk bands who made their way to the US in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the Clash had more impact than most others in some unexpected ways. Their classic double album London Calling made Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine (the only 90s rap-rock band that matters) take notice and change direction. “It was music I could relate to lyrically,” he says, “much more than the dungeons-and-dragons type lyrics of my metal forebears.”
Moreover, godfathers of political rap Public Enemy found their catalyst in the Clash, and went on to create a raucous, militant sound that was the punk equivalent in hip hop, full of snarling guitars, strident declarations and sirens. The song that most had an impact on PE founder and chief lyricist Chuck D came from the band’s even more sprawling triple album Sandinista!. When Chuck heard “The Magnificent Seven,” the Clash’s attempt to incorporate Grandmaster Flash and the Sugar Hill Gang — six months before Blondie released “Rapture” — “that’s when I started to pay attention,” he says.
“Magnificent Seven” came out of the band’s increasing musical adventurousness in the recording of 1980’s Sandinista!, in which they soaked up influences from every place they toured. “When we visited places,” Mick Jones remembered, “we were affected by that… And for me, New York City was really happening at that moment.” Jones took to carrying a boom box around blasting the latest hip hop. “Joe looked at the graffiti artists,” he says, “and I was taking in things like breakdancing and rap.” The band, bassist Paul Simenon recalls, was “open for information” when they met “people like Futura and Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow.”
The Clash didn’t only take from hip hop, but they tried to give back as well. Their 1981 run at “an aging Times Square Disco,” Jeff Chang writes, proved to be a major opportunity for graffiti artists like Futura, who painted a huge banner that was unfurled onstage every night and got to deliver his own rap while the band backed him. When the Clash announced an additional 11 shows after the NYPD limited capacity, they showed what Chang calls a “naive act of solidarity,” booking Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five as an opening act. White American punks sneered at the group; the Clash “responded by excoriating their own fans in interviews, and future Bronx-bred openers, The Treacherous Three and ESG, received marginally better treatment.”
Even more exciting was the fact that the B-side to “The Magnificent Seven,” a dub remix called “The Magnificent Dance,” had made it to New York hip hop radio and made the band unlikely stars among black American listeners. “The Clash were ecstatic to tune into WBLS and find that the DJs were not only playing ‘The Magnificent Dance’ up to five times a day, but also doing their own remixes of it,” writes Marcus Gray, “dubbing on samples from the soundtrack of Dirty Harry.” While the track, with its loping bass line played by Ian Drury and the Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy, primed dance floors for the success of the following year’s funk/disco “Rock the Casbah,” it was the lyrics that most grabbed listeners like Morello and Chuck D.
“They talked about important subjects,” says Chuck, “so therefore journalists printed what they said…. We took that from the Clash, because we were very similar in that regard. Public Enemy just did it 10 years later.” It may have taken that long for the barriers between punk and hip hop fans to come down, but to the extent that they did, it was in large part thanks to the musical adventurousness of the Clash and the early icons and fans who saw their revolutionary potential.
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Whatever marketing materials may claim, the Rolling Stones did not just happen upon Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge on Chicago’s South Side (before it closed, reopened in Hyde Park, then closed again for good) on a night when Muddy Waters happened to be there in 1981. And they did not spontaneously get invited to jam, as it seems, when they “climbed over tables” to get onstage with their hero and blues legends Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.
A chance meeting, of course, would have been magical, but the truth is the event was probably “planned and coordinated,” writes W. Scott Poole at Popmatters. These were the biggest names in the blues and rock and roll, after all. “Why,” before the Stones and their entourage arrive, “is there an empty table on the night Muddy Waters came back to Southside?”
And why did the Rolling Stones’ manager claim he “approached the Checkerboard higher-ups a week in advance,” Ted Scheinman writes at Slant, “proposing a surprise concert and proffering $500 as proof-of earnest”?
Was it a cynical ploy to re-establish the band’s blues cred during what would turn out to be the largest grossing tour of the year — one featuring what Jagger called “enormous images of a guitar, a car and a record — an Americana idea.” In some sense, Muddy Waters was also an “Americana idea,” but how could he be otherwise to the Stones, given that they’d grown up listening to him from across the Atlantic, associating him with experiences they had never known firsthand?
And so what if the historic meeting at the Checkerboard Lounge was stage-managed behind the scenes? That’s what managers do — they arrange things behind the scenes and let performers create the illusion of spontaneity, as though they hadn’t spent an entire tour, or decades of tours, making the same songs seem fresh on any given night. When it comes to the blues, playing the same songs over again is a key part of the game, seeing how much attitude and style one can wring out of a few chords, doggedly persistent themes of sex, love, death, betrayal, and maybe a bottleneck slide.
It’s a lesson the Stones learned well, and their adoration and respect for Muddy Waters is nothing less than genuine, even if it took some backstage negotiation to bring them together this one and only time. Muddy is spectacular. “Even as one of the aging elder statesmen of the Chicago blues in 1981,” writes Poole, “he exudes an aura of sex and power, showing off every attribute that so inspired Mick and Keith and that became an ineffable part of their own music and their persona.”
Meanwhile, the absolutely boyish glee on the faces of Jagger, Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Stones’ pianist Ian Stewart as they perform onstage with an artist who had given them so much more than just their name speaks for itself. The concert video and live album “began appearing as bootleg and unofficial releases almost immediately,” Allmusic notes, “from LP and CD to VHS and DVD.” Here, you can see them jam out three songs from the night: “Baby Please Don’t Go” (on which Waters brings Jagger onstage at 5:30 for an extended version and Keith joins at 6:50), “Mannish Boy,” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
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The talent of an individual may not always run in the family, but we can never discount the possibility of its doing so. This is true even in the case of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, not just one of the best-known composers ever to live, but a byword for deep, innate, and unrepeatable genius. Mozart was composing original music at the age of of four or five, an astonishing fact we know today in part because his older sister witnessed and later attested to it. Known as Nannerl, Maria Anna Mozart preceded her bother into keyboard lessons from their father Leopold, a composer and teacher. Together Wolfgang and Maria Anna toured Europe as a performing duo of child prodigies, until Maria Anna’s attainment of marriageable age took her off the circuit.
If Maria Anna ever composed music of her own, none of it has survived. But she did leave behind a fair few diaries and letters, many of the latter exchanged with her brother. These writings provided the material for pianist Heloísa Fernandes to create a piece in tribute to the lesser-known Mozart sibling.
“The writing, all in German, underwent painstaking analysis so that its tone and pronunciation could be translated into musical notes,” says Little Black Book. “A German interpreter was invited to read the letters and diary of Maria Anna Mozart out loud,” and a piece of software “translated the recording into musical notes by tuning the syllables. If a spoken syllable hit 387 Hz, for example, the program interpreted it as G.” Thus were Nannerl’s words transformed into music.
The resulting piece, “Das Königreich Rücken,” is named after “an imaginary kingdom that Maria and Wolfgang made reference to in their letters to each other,” as Sara Spary notes in Adweek — a publication that would naturally cover it, commissioned as it was by an ad campaign for LG Electronics. Developed by Brazilian firm AlmapBBDO in cooperation with the production company Supersônica, “Projecto Ms. Mozart” is meant to promote LG’s XBOOM Go Bluetooth speaker. But whichever device you use to hear “Das Königreich Rücken,” you’ll surely find that it sounds quite unlike any piece you’ve heard before. Fans of Maria Anna Mozart as a historical figure will listen and wonder what could have been, and even those ignorant of her can’t but welcome these three additional minutes of Mozart into the world.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.Read More...
It should be clear by now that rock and roll poses no danger to the status quo. Fair enough: It’s going on 70 years since Elvis and Chuck Berry freaked out parents of screaming teens, and 50 years since Iggy and the Stooges ripped up stages in Detroit and the denizens of CBGB made rock subversive again. That’s a long time for an edge to dull, and dull it has. Perhaps nowhere is this more in evidence than rock films like CBGB, which “somehow manages to make punk rock boring,” and Netflix’s The Dirt, a movie about Mötley Crüe that gives us as much insight into the band as a couple spins of “Dr. Feelgood,” argues critic Brian Tallerico.
Yes, we can chalk up bad rock films to lazy filmmaking and studio greed, but there’s also a general sense that the culture now understands rock only as a matter of gestures and anecdotes: the making of the music reduced to stylistic quirks and kitschy artifice.
This is in contrast, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich felt, to earlier media like the live performances on The Old Grey Whistle Test. (It’s certainly in contrast to John Peel’s raw sessions and films like Urgh! A Music War.) In making his From the Basement series, Godrich said, “I’m a sad fan trying to bring the magic back to music TV.”
Just as rock photography was reduced from “total access all the time” to well-kept marketing and PR (or so claimed the late, legendary Baron Wolman), rock performance has become overproduced spectacle in which it can be difficult to tell pre-recorded tracks from real playing. Add to this the loss of intimacy in live venues in the time of COVID, and we get even farther away from the music’s creation. Godrich and producer Dilly Gent conceived of From the Basement years before the pandemic, but it’s almost as if they anticipated a cultural crisis of our moment, the enforced separation from the making of live music.
Like the best Zoom concerts, From the Basement, produced between 2006 and 2009, eschews the trappings of host, audience, and studio lighting for an immediate experience of live creation. It’s a safe, sterile environment — missing are mosh pits, fans swarming the stage, and the sex, drugs, and violence of old. But to pretend that rock is dangerous in the 21st century is nothing more than pretense. There’s no need to turn the music into the edgy spectacle it isn’t anymore (and hasn’t been since “Creep” ruled the radio), Godrich and Gent’s concept suggests. In doing so, we miss what it is now.
Or as Thom Yorke — whose band got first dibs, playing “Videotape” and “Down is the New Up” in the debut episode — remarked, the show “was exciting because it came from the desire to cut out the crap that lies between the music and the viewer. To get plugged straight into the mains. No producer or director egos messing it up.” See From the Basement performances from Radiohead, Sonic Youth, the White Stripes, and PJ Harvey above and many more archived at the From the Basement YouTube channel here.
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“It really had very little to do with combining a bunch of famous people,” says Tom Petty about the Traveling Wilburys. “It was a bunch of friends that just happened to be really good at making music.”
One of the most modest supergroups of the 20th century, one that fate and chance threw together for a very brief period, the Traveling Wilburys made music that sits outside the usual histories of 1980s music, featuring five men in different states of their careers. Tom Petty was about to have a comeback, George Harrison had just had one, Jeff Lynne was no longer having chart hits as ELO, but he was shaping the sound of the late 1980s as a producer, Roy Orbison was *about* to have a posthumous comeback, and Bob Dylan was…doing whatever Dylan does—every album he put out in the ‘80s had an equal number of detractors and comeback claimants. Put it this way: the Traveling Wilburys didn’t feel like a nostalgia act, and neither did it feel like a marketing idea. It was actually lightning in a bottle.
“It was George’s band,” Lynne says in the above mini documentary, but it wasn’t really formed as one. It just sort of *evolved*.
As he explains early in the doc, Harrison was having dinner with Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne and invited them along to a studio in Los Angeles the next day. He had the hankering to make a tune, and they wound up using Bob Dylan’s home studio—the normally reclusive Dylan actually picked up the phone on the first ring and gave the okay. And Harrison’s guitar was over at Tom Petty’s house, so he came along as well. The song they recorded that day was “Handle with Care,” which fell together like magic. (Dylan provided the title after looking over at a cardboard box).
Harrison sat on the song for a while, having no idea what to do with it. The only thing he could do, was to record nine more songs and call it an album. Which, once they had found time in everybody’s schedule, they did. The songs were recorded at the home studio of Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) and finalized back in London with Harrison and Lynne. The group gave themselves the assignment of one song written and recorded per day. That the record isn’t a mish-mash of jamming, leftover ideas, and covers, and instead has a legitimate amount of classic singles and career-highlight moments is a testament to the friendship between the five (and drummer Jim Keltner, who knew them all).
Friends indeed, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t also big fans of each other. What’s cool to watch in the doc is how in awe they all seem: George is amazed by Bob’s cryptic scrawled lyrics and his ability to nail a song on essentially the first take. Tom Petty is in awe of George’s democratic ways with choosing who gets to sing one of the songs, regardless of who wrote it—really, how do you follow Roy Orbison’s version of a song? But Tom Petty still had a go.
The album maintains that friendly vibe in the recording: microphones were mobile to catch music wherever it happened. Jim Keltner played rhythm on the inside of the kitchen’s refrigerator. Songs were written in the kitchen. And after the work was done, the music would continue. “A lot of ukuleles till dawn,” says Harrison.
Roy Orbison only made it into the first music video off of the album, “Handle With Care.” He passed away just after the album went platinum in 1988, and appears as an empty rocking chair on the next video, “The End of the Line.”
The four remaining Wilburys would reunite for one more album (jokingly titled Volume 3 by prankster Harrison), but the first album still sounds timeless, five friends just having a good time together.
The True History Of The Traveling Wilburys will be added to our collection of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.Read More...
Image by Davidguam via Wikimedia Commons
Every time you think you’ve got a handle on Leonardo da Vinci’s genius (which is to say, you think you’ve heard about the most important things he painted, wrote, and invented), yet more evidence comes to light of the many ways he meets the standard for the adjective “genius”…. Recently, Leonardo re-appeared not only as an inventor of futuristic military technology or discoverer of complex human anatomy, but also as the first European to depict the “New World” on a globe–proving he knew about Columbus’ voyages when the globe was made in 1504.
The discovery “marks the first time ever that the names of countries such as Brazil, Germania, Arabia and Judea have appeared on a globe,” notes Cambridge Scholars Publishing, who released a book by the globe’s discoverer and primary researcher, Stefaan Missinne. The artifact attributed to Leonardo is engraved, “with immaculate detail,” writes Meeri Kim at The Washington Post, “on two conjoined halves of ostrich eggs.” And it features a single sentence, in Latin, above Southeast Asia: Hic Sunt Dracones–“Here be dragons.”
We’ll notice other unique features of the engraved egg Missinne calls, simply, “the Da Vinci Globe,” such as the fact that in place of Central and North America are the islands of Columbus’ “discovery,” surrounded by a vast ocean in which Pacific and Atlantic join. Why ostrich eggs? Humans have used them for decorative purposes for millennia. Also, “in that time period,” says Thomas Sander, editor of the Washington Map Society’s journal, Portolan, “the ostrich was quite the animal, and it was a big thing for the noble people to have ostriches in their back gardens.”
Missinne, a real estate developer, collector, and globe expert originally from Belgium, discovered the globe in 2012 at the London Map Fair. It was purchased “from a dealer who said it had been part of an important European collection for decades,” and its buyer and owner remain anonymous. After the globe appeared, Missinne “consulted more than 100 scholars and experts in his year-long analysis,” putting “about five years of research into one year,” says Sander, calling the research “an incredible detective story.”
Missinne’s investigation seems to substantiate his claims that the globe was made by Leonardo or his workshop. The evidence, some of which you can find on the Cambridge Scholars Publishing site, includes a 1503 preparatory map in da Vinci’s papers; the presence of arsenic, which only Leonardo was known to use at the time in copper to keep it from losing its lustre; “The use of chiaroscuro, pentienti, triangular shapes, the mathematics of the scale reflecting Leonardo’s written dimension of planet earth”; and a 1504 letter from Leonardo himself stating, “my world globe I want returned back from my friend Giovanni Benci.”
Missinne and Geert Verhoeven, of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection & Virtual Archeology, have published a paper on the “unfolding” of Leonardo’s globe into the two-dimensional image above (see an interactive version here). “This miniature egg globe is not only the oldest extant engraved globe,” the authors write, “but it is also the oldest post-Columbian globe of the world and the first ever to depict Newfoundland and many other territories.” Previously, the Hunt-Lenox Globe, a small copper globe, was thought to be the oldest known such artifact. Dated to around 1510, this globe, Missinne discovered, is actually a copy made from a cast of the older, original ostrich-egg globe.
Missinne’s findings have their detractors, including John W. Hessler of the Library of Congress, who claims Missinne himself is the anonymous owner of the globe, which raises issues of conflict of interest. “Where this thing comes from needs to be clarified,” says Renaissance cartography expert Chet Van Duzer of the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, R.I., though he adds, “It is an exciting discovery, no question.” Missinne’s claims for the egg’s provenance are more modest than his marketing. He “speculates,” writes Kim, “ the egg could have loose connections to the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci.” Hessler’s view is less equivocal: “The Leonardo connection is pure nonsense.”
A layperson like Missinne, whatever his personal investment, might be inclined to overinterpret evidence or make tenuous connections a trained scholar would avoid. The many scholars he cites in support of his claims for the globe are also vulnerable to these charges, however, though to a lesser degree. What do we make of French Mona Lisa expert Pascal Cotte’s testimonial, “I hereby confirm the evidence of the left-handedness of the engravings on the Ostrich Egg Globe. As Leonardo was the only left-handed artist in his workshop, I hereby endorse the hypothesis of Leonardo da Vinci’s authorship”? As in all such academic debates, “Here be dragons.” Weigh the case in full in Missinne’s 2018 book, The Da Vinci Globe.
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It seems impossible to talk about keyboardist Chick Corea, who passed away from cancer on February 11 at age 79, without also talking about Miles Davis. Davis hand picked him for the groundbreaking albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, and as a member of those ensembles, Corea helped shape the future of music and helped divide the jazz community into those who embraced the psychedelic “fusion” of jazz, rock, and other world musics and those who were fiercely protective of tradition.
Corea, however, “had already gone through early explorative phases of his career,” writes Jim Burlong at Jazz Views, before his “brief but not always happy” stint with Davis. He was on his way to the avant-garde direction he would take with his later group, Return to Forever. Yet no matter how far out there he went with Davis or the ridiculously accomplished RTF and hundreds of other musicians he played with, Corea always stayed connected to the music’s roots.
“Throughout his career,” Giovanni Russonello writes at The New York Times, Corea “never abandoned his first love, the acoustic piano, on which his punctilious touch and crisp sense of harmony made his playing immediately distinctive.” We hear it in compositions like “Spain” (at the top in a beautifully spare version with Bobby McFerrin), “500 Miles High,” and “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” all of which have “become jazz standards, marked by his dreamy but brightly illuminated harmonies and ear-grabbing melodies.”
We hear Corea’s “dreamy” acoustic piano throughout Return to Forever’s 1976 Romantic Warrior, an album that features 29 or so additional instruments among its four musicians, including a MiniMoog, Micromoog, Polymoog, Moog 15, ARP Odyssey, and an alarm clock and slide whistle on the quirky, medieval “The Magician.” This description alone might make purists cringe, but charges that jazz fusion albums are overstuffed and overly busy don’t tend to stick to Corea’s best recordings.
The sound of Return to Forever on Romantic Warrior, an album that influenced “bands to come on both sides of the Atlantic,” is “never crowded,” Burlong writes, “and the overall ambiance from all combinations of the thirty something instruments used is mostly one of controlled urgency.” Graced with a finesse that shines equally in weird, Scientology-inspired electric albums and traditional acoustic trios, Corea’s “versatility is second to none when it comes to the jazz world,” says his longtime friend and collaborator, vibraphonist Gary Burton.
Corea resisted the idea that funk and rock instrumentation in progressive jazz meant the invention of a new sub-genre. “It’s the media that are so interested in categorizing music,” he said in 1983, “the media and the businessmen, who, after all, have a vested interest in keeping marketing clear cut and separate. If critics would ask musicians their views about what is happening, you would find that there is always a fusion of sorts taking place… a continual merging of different streams.”
His advice to fellow musicians who might feel constrained by tradition or the strictures of the market is priceless (or “cheap but good,” he wrote), including the advice he gave a graduating class at Berklee College of Music in his home state of Massachusetts in 1997: “It’s all right to be yourself. In fact, the more yourself you are, the more money you make.” As a musician, Corea was never anything less than himself, though he didn’t seem in it for the money, sharing composition credit equally among the musicians on many of his ensemble albums.
Corea’s versatile musical approach won him 23 Grammys (“more than almost any other musician,” writes Russonello), three Latin Grammys, and the enduring respect and admiration of fans and fellow musicians. See more of his flawless chops in the intimate live performances above, including a Tiny Desk Concert with Burton, a full concert in Spain from 2018 with his acoustic trio, and a dueling piano performance of “Spain” live in Tokyo with pianist Hiromi Uehara, just above.
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