I always sort of hoped that Rush’s drummer-lyricist Neil Peart and I would cross paths at some point and have an interesting conversation. We both first lived on family farms in Ontario, our fathers both worked at International Harvester dealerships, we both wrote multiple books (much of my work being about Rush’s music), we are both Canadians who lived in Los Angeles for a time, he was nicknamed “The Professor,” and I actually once was a Visiting Assistant Professor. Rush’s music is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the complexity (definitely present in the drumming), the constant stream of influences (lyrical and musical), and the work ethic were remarkable. Please consider giving a monetary gift in his memory to a cancer charity of your choice. RIP, Neil.
My book chapter, “Be Sharp: ‘The Simpsons’ and Music,” appears in: The Simpsons’ Beloved Springfield: Essays on the TV Series and Town That Are Part of Us All (McFarland, 2019)
I’m now employed full-time as an Order Support Specialist on behalf of a major computer technology company. So, as an Unaffiliated Scholar (Ph.D. in Musicology, MLIS, etc.), I’m finding it difficult to continue giving up hundreds of hours of academic work for no pay. The book chapter that was published in 2019 and the journal article coming out in 2020 (both are about parody and intertextuality in the music of “The Simpsons”), as well as my academic library internship of 2016 and 2018 (music, etc.), will probably be my last work for free.
On the 50th anniversary of The Beatles (a.k.a., The White Album, 1968), I’ve just listened to the whole album for the first time in years. My first thought is that it’s inconsistent and far too eclectic. It sometimes tries to one-up earlier Beatles’ songs but never really succeeds at that. For example, “Glass Onion” and “Honey Pie” both try way too hard. Similarly, the album is so long and sprawling that it even quotes itself several times, but never in a good, thematically-unifying way. The album also wants to help establish the potential of the individual Beatles’ solo careers, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Don’t Pass Me By” do that pretty well for George Harrison and Ringo Starr. However, even with “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Blackbird,” “Julia,” and “Helter Skelter,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney both still arguably have better material elsewhere. Half of the double album could have been (and probably should have been) B-sides. However, they decided not to release any singles from the album (let alone B-sides), in favour of releasing a single of the same period’s “Hey Jude” and the faster, more pop-oriented version of “Revolution”–neither or which is on the more than 93-minute album. It’s hard to imagine that the 50th Anniversary, “Super Deluxe,” special edition of the album comprises up to seven discs of material. Very few people are going to need to hear a “bright new mix,” obscure demos, abandoned versions, and an eventual guitar solo hummed by Paul McCartney. Besides, Revolver (1966) and Abbey Road (1969) are much better albums.
This article begs the question as to what “skim writing” might entail. Academic research and writing seem like an awful lot of trouble, given that it takes a long time to produce with almost no-one encountering it after all that. Also, Malcolm Gladwell and others are just going to reorganize selected parts of it, anyhow. Why not skip the middle man? Why shouldn’t we try to get to “deep digital” parallels to writing and reading?
The Eagles’ 1976 album Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (with 38 million copies sold) has once again supplanted Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller (with 33 million copies sold) as the top-selling album of all time, at least in the US. Who cares?
Amanda Petrusich, in her New Yorker article about the situation, accomplishes very little other than to reveal she finds that the Jackson album “provokes” (without once specifying how or why), whereas the Eagles’ greatest hits collection “placates” (though also somehow imbuing “dread” and/or a “swirling beige inertia”).
Given the existence of Hardcore Punk, Death Metal, New Age, Smooth Jazz, and various other musical genres not explored by Michael Jackson or by the Eagles, I find it extremely difficult to consider either of those artists to be particularly provocative or placating. Also, none of this takes into account the fact that both artists uniquely arrived at their mainstream pop successes by merging other styles. The Eagles combined singer-songwriter and country-rock approaches into a kind of rock super-group aesthetic (and certainly with rather less “major chord ubiquity” after 1975), whereas Jackson combined R&B, urban/dance pop, and rock elements into a compelling amalgam.
Do any of the details about music sales actually matter, though, when tens of millions of people now listen to most of the music they encounter–and frequently without buying anything–on such streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube? Probably not. Could music writers please get around to discussing music in more useful ways? Same answer, unfortunately.