The Singer or the Song? Ken Stringfellow (Posies, R.E.M., Big Star) and Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #23 Discuss

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is PMP-The-Singer-Not-the-Song-with-Ken-Stringfellow-400-x-800.jpg

What’s your rela­tion­ship to music? Do you just embrace the pure sound, or do you care about who made that sound? One way of see­ing where you fall on this issue is whether you care more for sin­gles or to whole albums or careers by artists.

Ken Stringfel­low, who co-fronts The Posies and was a mem­ber of R.E.M. and Big Star, joins Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Eri­ca Spyres, and Bri­an Hirt to talk about what actu­al­ly grabs us about music, whether being a musi­cian your­self is a key fac­tor in whether you pay atten­tion to the con­text of a song, how music gets to your ears, singers vs. song­writ­ers, what we think about the notion of “genius,” and how this artist vs. song con­flict relates to how we take in oth­er media (e.g. favorite film direc­tors).

The ideas for this dis­cus­sion most­ly came from reflect­ing on our own expe­ri­ences and habits, but we did some warm-up research into:

Lis­ten to Mark inter­view Ken on Naked­ly Exam­ined Music, pre­sent­ing specif­i­cal­ly some of his solo, Posies, and Big Star songs. After that was record­ing, Ken sang some har­monies on a tune on Mark’s last album, Mark Lin­t’s Dry Folk.

Oth­er ref­er­ences: “Mid­night Con­fes­sions” by The Grass Roots, Lil Peep, Tom Wait­s’s most pop­u­lar album, Lou Reed is not a one-hit won­der, the scene in Slack­er with a fan get­ting Madon­na’s pubic hair, Damien Rice is still work­ing, the band Live reunit­ed, REM on Sesame Street (no, Ken is not on cam­era), Ken being “world music” by play­ing solo in for­eign coun­tries.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion that you can only hear by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Is the Live Music Experience Irreplaceable? Pretty Much Pop #11

Sure­ly tech­no­log­i­cal advances have made it unnec­es­sary to ever leave the house, right? Is there still a point in see­ing live peo­ple actu­al­ly doing things right in front of you?

Dave Hamil­ton (Host of Gig GabMac Geek Gab) joins Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Eri­ca Spyres, and Bri­an Hirt to dis­cuss what’s so damn cool about live music (and the­ater), the alter­na­tives (live-streamed-to-the­aters or devices, record­ed for TV, VR), why tick­ets are so expen­sive, whether trib­ute bands ful­fill our needs, the con­nec­tion between live music and drugs, singing along to the band, and more.

We touch on Rush (and their trib­ute Lotus Land), Damien Rice, Todd Rund­gren, The Who, Cop RockBat out of Hell: The Musi­calHed­wig and the Angry Inch, the filmed Shrek The Musi­cal, and Riff­trax Live.

We used some arti­cles to feed this episode, though we didn’t real­ly bring them up:

You know Mark also runs a music pod­cast, right? Check out Eri­ca doin’ her fid­dlin’ and sin­gin’. Lis­ten to Mark’s mass of tunes. Here’s Dave singing and drum­ming some Badfin­ger live with his band Fling, and here’s Mark live singing “The Grinch.”

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion that you can only hear by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Nakedly Examined Music Podcast Explores Songwriting with Cracker, King Crimson, Cutting Crew, Jill Sobule & More

I’m Mark Lin­sen­may­er, the host of The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life Phi­los­o­phy Pod­cast, and I’d like to intro­duce you to a new-in-2016 inter­view series called Naked­ly Exam­ined Music (iTunes — Face­book — RSS) that fea­tures great song­writ­ers talk­ing about their moti­va­tions and tech­niques regard­ing spe­cif­ic songs.

In episode one, for instance, indie rock icon and activist for artist rights David Low­ery decon­struct­ed the lyrics for his sto­ry songs “All Her Favorite Fruit” (Camper Van Beethoven, 1989) and “I Sold the Arabs the Moon” (from his 2011 solo album), con­trast­ing these with the non­sense song that launched his career, “Take the Skin­heads Bowl­ing.”

The songs dis­cussed are played in full, and the idea is to get a sense of the artist’s approach in very spe­cif­ic terms, and how this has changed over time. In episode 15, Craig Wedren shows us his devel­op­ment from writ­ing heavy (“post-hard­core”), dis­so­nant music in the 90s with Shud­der to Think, to cre­at­ing dis­co synth­scapes with his ear­ly 00’s band Baby, to now com­pos­ing music for sound­tracks like Net­flix’s “Wet Hot Amer­i­can Sum­mer: First Day of Camp.”

The empha­sis in a giv­en inter­view depends on the artist: Gui­tar vir­tu­oso Gary Lucas (Cap­tain Beef­heart, Jeff Buck­ley) eschews music the­o­ry, so the focus is more on the ide­ol­o­gy of cre­ation, where­as tap-gui­tar wiz­ard Trey Gunn (King Crim­son, David Syl­vian) instructs us in com­bin­ing time sig­na­tures and solo­ing in modes. The inter­views both teach us how to lis­ten to and appre­ci­ate music by show­ing us what to focus on, and also serve to instruct song­writ­ers real and vic­ar­i­ous about deci­sions that go into a choice of chord or lyric or instru­men­ta­tion.

What kind of music can you expect to hear? Offi­cial­ly, any­thing that has thought behind it, but I’m start­ing with my expe­ri­ence as musi­cian (see and music lover grow­ing up in the 80s and 90s lis­ten­ing to pop­u­lar, indie, folk, punk, and pro­gres­sive rock. There hare been some move­ment into soul (Episode 16 fea­tures the great Nara­da Michael Walden, who pro­duced Whit­ney Hous­ton among many oth­ers), elec­tron­i­ca (Gareth Mitchell), coun­try (Beth Kille), and future episodes will ven­ture into clas­si­cal, hip-hop, and world music. More typ­i­cal, how­ev­er (i.e. more akin to my own writ­ing), are fig­ures like 90s sweet­heart and polit­i­cal activist Jill Sob­ule, cow-punk pio­neer Jon Lang­ford (Mekons), grunge-ped­dler turned sym­phon­ist Jonathan Don­ahue (Mer­cury Rev), NPR dar­ling Chad Clark (Beau­ty Pill), and 80s Cut­ting Crew front-man Nick Eede. One of the episodes next to be released will fea­ture Bill Bru­ford (Yes, King Crim­son, Earth­works).

Lis­ten to Jill Sob­ule in episode 18:

In one of the most inter­est­ing inter­views (episode 3), major league music video director–and mem­ber of 70s super­group 10cc and 80s duo God­ley & Creme–Kevin God­ley takes us from 70s prog excess (and get­ting to record jazz leg­end Sarah Vaugh­an) into the New Wave and out of music alto­geth­er, only to redis­cov­er it post-retire­ment.

This is not about get­ting behind the scenes with your favorite stars or any oth­er hype of that sort, but about talk­ing with smart peo­ple to fig­ure out the lan­guage of music, the moti­va­tions behind cre­ation, and the tech­niques avail­able for self-expres­sion. In the course of these dis­cus­sions, we get into chang­ing trends in mak­ing a liv­ing in music (or not!), new music tech­nolo­gies, and, of course, philo­soph­i­cal issues.

Mark Lin­sen­may­er is a writer and musi­cian in Madi­son, WI. His Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life Phi­los­o­phy Pod­cast has been down­loaded more than 15 mil­lion times. Learn more about Naked­ly Exam­ined Music at, sub­scribe via iTunes, or fol­low on Face­book.

« Go Back
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.