A Vinyl Freak Playlist by John Corbett

Today’s post is a playlist by John Corbett, author of Vinyl Freak:  Love Letters to a Dying Medium. Corbett is a music critic, record producer, and curator. He is the author of Microgroove: Forays into Other Music and Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein, both also published by Duke University Press, and A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation. His writing has appeared in DownBeat, Bomb, Nka, and numerous other publications. He is the co-owner of Corbett vs. Dempsey, an art gallery in Chicago.

978-0-8223-6366-8_prOne of my preoccupations in writing about music and curating visual art has been the dialogue between material culture and cultural history. When artifacts move from being available to being unavailable, passing into a phase of having previously been available, their status as part of the historical record shifts. Notice of their existence becomes tenuous. Sometimes things are actively excluded, sometimes they’re rediscovered, or maybe they are lost forever. Just try to find tenor saxophonist Tommy Madman Jones’s LP Madman Speaks—virtually impossible! Susan Hiller’s beautiful, bittersweet video installation The Last Silent Movie (2007-08), which strings together a series of fragments of people telling stories in extinct or nearly extinct languages, brings such an idea to a visceral conclusion, suggesting the loss of entire lexicons and syntaxes and speech patterns. As a world, we are proportionately poorer for such vanishings.

In Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium, I assembled most of the monthly (and later bi-monthly) columns that I composed for DownBeat magazine over a dozen years starting at the outset of the new millennium. These were dedicated to LPs, singles, and a few acetates or 78 rpm shellacs, all of which had fallen out of print and had never been reissued on CD. My aim, more than fluffing my record collector feathers, was to suggest the ways in which musical culture is written and rewritten in concert with its material self. Along the way, certain subthemes emerged, often unintentionally. For this playlist, I’ve extracted one of them: soul-jazz. In working on the column I was (and I continue to be) quite surprised how many wonderful records in this mode—funky, bluesy, organ-oriented, mostly recorded in the ‘50s and ‘60s, many of them for Chicago’s prolific Argo label—were impossible to find on disc. Indeed some of them are even now inaccessible on YouTube, where so much musical esoterica has resurfaced over the last decade.

Get in the good groove!

The Three Sounds, “Fannie Mae,” from Dangerous Dan Express

Thornel Schwartz with Bill Leslie, “Blue and Dues” from Soul Cookin’

 Gloria Coleman Quartet with Pola Roberts, “Funky Rob,” from Soul Sisters

Melvin Jackson, “Bold and Black,” from Funky Skull

Tommy Madman Jones, “Hi Fi Apartment,” 7-inch single

Bill Leslie, “Angel Eyes,” from Diggin’ the Chicks

A.K. Salim, “Salute to Zulu,” from Afro-Soul/Drum Orgy

Jack Wilson featuring Roy Ayers, from Ramblin’

Johnny Shacklett Trio, from Live at The Hoffman House

Cozy Eggleston, “Sweet Merri Dee,” from Grand Slam

Johnny Lytle Trio, “Blue Vibes,” from Blue Vibes

 To purchase Vinyl Freak at a 30% discount, use coupon code E17VINYL when ordering from our website.

Astor Piazzolla and Lalo Schifrin, New York, 1958

978-0-8223-6236-4We’re pleased to share a guest blog post from Matthew Karush, author of the new book Musicians in Transit: Argentina and the Globalization of Popular Music.

In Musicians in Transit, I explore the careers of seven Argentine musicians across the twentieth century. My focus is on how these artists navigated the economic and ideological structures of the global music business. Whether they played tango, folk, jazz, pop, or rock, all of these musicians recorded for multinational companies, performed for foreign audiences and critics, and engaged with foreign genres and musicians. These encounters imposed creative limits, but they also opened up opportunities. In response, Argentine musicians produced innovative music and achieved commercial success while generating new ways of conceptualizing their identities. Their aesthetic and commercial maneuvers both shifted global perceptions of Latin American music and enabled their Argentine fans to reimagine their own relationship to the rest of the world.

The North American travels of tango innovator Astor Piazzolla and jazz pianist and composer Lalo Schifrin provide revealing examples of how Argentine musicians responded to foreign expectations. Coincidentally, Piazzolla and Schifrin followed similar itineraries in the 1950s: both left Buenos Aires for Paris in 1954, returned shortly thereafter, and then moved to New York City in 1958. When they traveled in Europe and the United States, they were both perceived as “Latin,” a quasi-ethnic identity that implied a series of musical stereotypes. This perception exerted a profound impact on the kind of music they would go on to make, although that impact was very different in the two cases.

By the time he moved to New York (or returned there – Piazzolla actually grew up in New York City), Piazzolla was an accomplished tango composer and arranger as well as a performer on the bandoneón, the accordion-like instrument featured in tango bands. In the mid-fifties, he had developed an avant-garde version of the tango, which sounded like this:

This is “Lo que vendrá,” from 1956. It shows Piazzolla trying to infuse tango with the sophistication of both classical music and modern jazz.

Piazzolla was clearly enthusiastic about opening the tango up to foreign influences. In New York, he planned to create a new group that would attract a North American audience by performing a hybrid of jazz and tango. Yet as an Argentine in the United States, Piazzolla was seen as Latin, and musically, Latin meant Cuban drums and rhythms. As a result, Piazzolla’s big break in New York came from Tico Records, a local label that specialized in mambo and other Latin dance genres. Tico paired Piazzolla’s group with a Latin percussion section including Johnny Pacheco, the future salsa innovator.  Here they are playing the Duke Ellington standard, “Sophisticated Lady”:

The choice of material, the vibraphone, and the long bandoneón solo all reveal Piazzolla’s intention to borrow from jazz. But the inclusion of the bongos sets the music against a stereotypical Latin rhythm. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this funny-sounding hybrid failed to find an audience in the US.

Chastened, Piazzolla abandoned his attempt to win over a North American audience and returned to Buenos Aires in 1960. Interestingly, the music he made over the next few years, on the heels of his New York failure, represented his most impressive burst of creativity and innovation and would largely set the template for the rest of his career. His new band was called the Quinteto Nuevo Tango (pictured on the cover of my book). Here it is in 1963 performing Piazzolla’s composition, “Fracanapa”:

As I argue in the book, this music avoided the “fusion” strategy of his New York phase. He was now free of the need to appeal to North American listeners or to fit into the category of Latin music. Inspired by modern jazz, his music sounded like a cosmopolitan version of tango, or as he liked to describe it, “the contemporary music of Buenos Aires.” On the strength of this music, Piazzolla became an icon in Argentina, but he would not achieve a significant audience in the United States until the 1980s.

Lalo Schifrin’s response to the Latin label was very different. Eleven years younger than Piazzolla, Schifrin was a jazz wunderkind with a deep love of bebop and no interest in the tango or in any other Latin American musical genre. Nevertheless, by the mid-1950s, the idea of “Latin jazz,” conceived as a mixture of jazz improvisation with Cuban rhythms, was well established. This category, and the larger one of Latin music, created opportunities for someone like Schifrin, who combined impressive musical skills with Latin American ancestry. Shortly after moving to New York, Schifrin took a job as pianist and arranger for the Latin bandleader Xavier Cugat. Here he is performing with the Cugat band on US television:

The video demonstrates Schifrin’s showmanship, but it also reveals the way he was able to play the role of an authentic practitioner of what the television announcer calls “the modern Latin form.” Similarly, within a couple of years, Schifrin was helping to popularize bossa nova, the Brazilian samba-jazz hybrid, both as the pianist in Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet and as a solo artist:

In late 1963, Schifrin’s career took a definitive turn when he began composing music for movies and TV. His reputation as a Latin music master helped him get his first Hollywood jobs, and many of his early compositions bear the traces of this background. His most famous composition is no exception:

Not only do the bongos give “Mission Impossible” a Latin flavor, but as I argue in the book, the song’s dominant theme plays with listeners’ expectation of the clave, the basic rhythmic cell of Afro-Cuban music. Although Schifrin quickly jettisoned the Latin label and has enjoyed a long career composing in a wide variety of styles, his original reception as a Latin music specialist facilitated his access to US audiences and shaped some of his most influential work.

Piazzolla and Schifrin had opposite experiences in the US: Piazzolla failed to find an audience and quickly returned to Argentina, while Schifrin succeeded and stayed. Nevertheless, they both developed their musical personalities and innovations by grappling with the expectations imposed on them by North Americans.

Use coupon code E16KARUS to save 30% on Musicians in Transit when you order through our website.

November Events

November is a great time to head out to local bookstores and other venues and meet our authors.

spillReaders in Durham, Montreal, and Atlanta can all catch poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs this month.
November 1: Alexis Gumbs will read from her new book Spill at The Regulator.
7:00pm, 720 Ninth Street, Durham, NC 27705

November 9:  The Concordia Centre will host a workshop Alexis Gumbs and Rachel Zellars around her book Spill.
6:00pm,  H-763, Hall Building,  1455 de Maisonneuve West, Annex V-01, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8

November 18: Spill author Alexis Gumbs will be at Charis Books to discuss her book.
7:30pm, 1189 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30307

978-0-8223-5931-9November 5: Shane Greene will participate in a panel discussion at Cornell University for their Musicology Colloquium.
3:00pm, Klarman Hall Auditorium KG70, 232 East Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850

November 7: Shapeshifters author Aimee Cox will be at the University of Miami to discuss “Black Girlhood.”
12:00pm, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33143

November 10: Christina Sharpe speaks at Northwestern University on her book In the Wake.
12:00pm, Northwestern University, TGS Commons, 2122 Sheridan Road, 1st Floor, Evanston, IL 60208
Followed by a conversation with Alex Weheliye.
5:30pm, Harris Hall 108, Evanston, IL 60208

Cahan cover image, 5897-8November 12: Susan Cahan will be at Laumeier Sculpture Park to discuss and sign copies for her book Mounting Frustration.
1:00pm, 12580 Rott Road, Adam Aronson Fine Arts Center, St. Louis, Missouri 63127

November 14: Susan Cahan in conversation with Lowery Stokes Sims at the Museum of Modern Art on her book Mounting Frustration.
7:00pm, Education and Research Center, Theater 3, 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019

November 17: Hettie Jones will discuss her new book, Love, H, at the Poets House. This is a ticketed event.
7:00pm, Kray Hall, 10 River Terrace, New York, NY 10282

November is also a huge month for conferences. Be sure to come by our booths at the National Women’s Studies Association, Society for Ethnomusicology, American Studies Association, American Anthropological Association, American Academy of Religion, American Society for Theater Research, American Society for Ethnohistory, Middle East Studies Association, and African Studies Association. Save 30% on all our titles in the booths and meet our staff members.

A Horace Tapscott Playlist

songs-of-the-unsungTo celebrate the new paperback edition of pianist Horace Tapscott’s autobiography Songs of the Unsung, we’d like to share a brief playlist of his music. Tapscott’s albums—especially on vinyl—can be hard to find, and they can command a premium (a friend of mine bought Tapscott’s album The Call for $40 and considered it a bargain; a first pressing of The Giant is Awakened regularly sells for $150+ on ebay). For those unfamiliar with Tapscott’s music, these five tracks that represent just a little part of Tapscott’s stylistic breadth are a great place to start. And for Tapscott aficionados, here’s a little reminder to fill out the gaps in your collection.


“The Giant Is Awakened,” from The Giant is Awakened (Flying Dutchman)
recorded in 1969

The title track from what is perhaps Tapscott’s best-known album, this piece—which features some heavy solos—is a great example of where a strand of avant-garde jazz went after the death of John Coltrane in 1967. A classic!

Horace Tapscott, piano
Arthur Blythe, alto saxophone
David Bryant, bass
Walter Savage Jr, bass
Everett Brown Jr, drums

“A Dress for Renee,” from The Dark Tree (hatOLOGY)

Recorded live at Catalina’s Bar & Grill in Hollywood, California in 1989, “A Dress for Renee” is a gorgeous solo piano ballad. The rest of the album features John Carter on clarinet, Cecil McBee on bass, and Andrew Cyrille on drums.

“The Call,” from The Call: Horace Tapscott Conducting the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (Nimbus West Records)
recorded 1978

This piece demonstrates Tapscott’s unique big band composing style. The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra didn’t stick to the standard instrumentation or orchestration of big bands—note Tapscott’s use of tuba and lack of trumpets. Those familiar with David Murray’s writing for octets and big bands from the 1980s will hear some stylistic similarities.

Horace Tapscott: piano, conductor
Michael Session, Kafi Larry Roberts, Jesse Sharps, James Andrews, Herbert Callies: saxophones, flutes and clarinets
Adele Sebastian: vocals and flute
Archie Johnson, Lester Robertson: trombone
Linda Hill: piano
Louis Spears: cello and bass
Red Callendar: tuba and bass
David Bryant, Kamonta Lawrence Polk: bass
Everett Brown Jr: drums
William Madison: percussion and drums

Sonny Criss Orchestra, “The Black Apostles,” from Sonny’s Dream (Birth of the New Cool) (Prestige)
recorded 1968

Sonny Criss was an alto saxophone player from L.A. whose work is under-recognized. This piece was composed by Tapscott. Like “The Call,” Tapscott uses tuba, but on this piece Tapscott’s comopsition style is a little closer to mainstream hard bop—but it is still unmistakably his style.

Horace Tapscott and Roberto Miranda, “If You Could See Me Now”

Recorded in Germany in March of 1998 (less than a year before Tapscott died), this video features Tapscott in a duo with bassist Roberto Miranda playing Tadd Dameron’s lovely tune. Watching Tapscott play, especially during his solo at about the 3:20 mark, is a treat. And for the super nerdy out there, note Tapscott’s quote of Miles Davis’s tune “Four” and his quote of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” It’s a shame that the piano is so out of tune.

Look for Songs of the Unsung at your favorite bookstore or save 30% when ordering from us with coupon code E16TAPSC. 

Upcoming Events: Tim Lawrence

In his new book  Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983, Tim Lawrence examines the city’s party, dance, music, and art culture between 1980 and 1983, tracing the rise, apex, and fall of this inventive, vibrant, and tumultuous scene. Lawrence has a number of launch events in New York and London including readings, a symposium on the book and even some dance parties. We hope you can make it to one of them.

Party and Book Signing
25 September, 5:00 to midnight
Lucky Cloud Sound System Loft Party
Rose Lipman Building, de Beauvoir Road, London N1

Presentation, Discussion, Screening and DJing
Join Tim Lawrence in a conversation with Greg Wilson, a screening of Downtown 81, and DJing by Guillaume Chottin and Simon Halpin.
30 September
Hosted by Pages of Hackney at The Institute of Light
376 Helmsley Pl, London E8 3SB

Reading, Exhibition and Book Signing
Exhibition curated by Conor Donlon and Tim Lawrence.
1 October
Donlon Books
75 Broadway Market
London, E8 4PH

October 4, 1:00pm
Yale University
Interdisciplinary Performance Studies Working Group
220 York Street, Room 201
New Haven, CT

NYC Party Culture 1980-83: Conjuncture, Queers, Women
October 4, 5:00pm
Yale University
Loria 351
New Haven, CT

Lecture and Q&A
October 6, 4:30pm
Cornell University
Music Department, Lincoln Hall, Room 124
Ithaca, NY 14850

Lecture, Discussion and Book Signing
Lawrence will lecture on and discuss his book with Tavia Nyong’o.
October 7, 6:30 pm
The CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave, NY 10016

Symposium Keynote: Tim Lawrence
October 8, 10:00am
Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at NYU
Performance Studies Studio
721 Broadway, 6th Floor, Rm. 612
Readings: Patti Astor and Tim Lawrence
Contributors: Leonard Abrams (East Village Eye), Emily Armstrong (video filmmaker), Patti Astor (downtown actor, Fun Gallery, Wild Style), Jeffrey Deitch (curator), Johnny Dynell (Mudd Club, Pyramid, Danceteria, Area), Kit Fitzgerald (video filmmaker), Jim Fouratt (Hurrah, Danceteria), Bernard Gendron (author), Steven Harvey (New York Rocker), Michael Holman (Negril, breaking impresario), Pat Ivers (video filmmaker), Danny Krivit (Roxy), Sal Principato (Liquid Liquid), John Robie (musician, producer), Chi Chi Valenti (Mudd Club, Danceteria), Sharon White (the Saint), Michael Zilkha (ZE Records)

Book Photo Show and Reception
Bobby Grossman (with Richard Boch), Allan Tannenbaum, Harvey Wang, Ande Whyland (with Dany Johnson) present photographs with commentary
October 8, 6:30pm
Howl Gallery
6 E 1st St, New York, NY 10003

Loft Party with Book Signing
October 9
The Loft

 718 Sessions Party with Book Signing
October 9
718 Sessions

Conversation and Book Signing
Tim Lawrence in conversation with Ivan Baker (Mudd Club, Pyramid), Justin Strauss (Mudd Club, the Ritz), and Will Socolov (Sleeping Bag)
October 11
Rough Trade
64 N. 9TH St.
New York, NY

Screening, Panel Discussion and Book Signing
Dany Johnson DJing, screening of Downtown 81, panel discussion led by Tim Lawrence featuring Patti Astor, Johnny Dynell, Michael Holman and Ann Magnuson.
October 13, 6:30pm
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Film Plus, 425 seat Titus 1 Theater
11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019

Conversation, DJ Set and Book Signing
Tim Lawrence conversation with Ivan Baker (Mudd Club, Pyramid) and Justin Strauss (Mudd Club, the Ritz); DJing set by Ivan Baker and Justin Strauss
October 15, 4:00pm
Super Elevation Records
100 White St., New York, NY

Party and Book Signing
Better Days party at Analog, Bruce Forest DJ set.
October 15
Analog BKNY
177 Second Ave.
Brooklyn NY 11215

Discussion and Reading
Tim Lawrence in discussion with Steven Harvey.
October 16, 3:00pm
Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects/SHFAP
Exhibition, Paradise: Underground Culture in NYC 1978-83
208 Forsyth St, New York, NY 10002 

October 17, 4:00pm
Columbia University
Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality
754 Schermerhorn Ext, New York, NY 10027

Talk, Reading and Book Signing
26 October
Phonica Records
51 Poland St, London W1F 7LZ

Listening Session, Talk and Book Signing
Tim Lawrence presents Dinosaur L 24-24 Music.
6 November
Classic Album Sundays

Discussion and Book Signing
Tim Lawrence in conversation with Greg Wilson.
26 November, 6:00pm
Walthamstow Rock n Roll Book Club
Waterstones in Walthamstow
Unit 30-31 Selbourne Walk Shopping Centre
Walthamstow, London, E17 7JR

After Party
Wildcard Brewery featuring Soul Picnic DJs and special guest DJ
26 November, 8:00pm
Ravenswood industrial estate off Shernall St, Walthamstow


Chuck Eddy’s “Terminated for Reasons of Taste” Playlist

978-0-8223-6225-8Veteran rock critic Chuck Eddy takes the reins in today’s blog post, sharing music and excerpts from his new book Terminated for Reasons of Taste: Other Ways to Hear Essential and Inessential Music.

In Terminated for Reasons of Taste, I want to show how the world of pop music is bigger, more multi-dimensional, endlessly compelling in more directions, than readers ever imagined; I want to demonstrate how, in pop music, history repeats itself, recurring again and again in strange, intriguing, disturbing, revealing, often hilarious ways. In the more than three decades during which I wrote these pieces, popular music itself, music criticism, the music industry, communication media, and America have all changed immeasurably. But this book tracks all of those changes as they occurred, and then some.

I started writing professionally, if you can call it that, in early 1984, and the book divides itself into five chronological sections, revolving around music from the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and – in the first one, facetiously titled “B.C.” – all of history Before I was a Critic. Under each of those umbrellas, I tried to organize pieces like a playlist or mixtape or good radio set, to transition logically into each other – to set each other up, answer each other’s questions, carry on an internal conversation or debate. Here are some excerpts, with visual aids to make things more fun.

A living fossil in the age of rock’roll, Cowboy Copas had a career that dated back to ‘20s string bands, then had a top five country hit in 1946. “Alabam,” which topped the country chart and got to #63 pop in Billboard when he was 47 in 1960, partook in a rhythm unmistakably echoing those bygone eras. And it wasn’t even the last of its kind – Guy Drake (1970’s race-baiting “Welfare Cadillac”), Jerry Reed, obese Hee Haw sideshow Junior Samples, and “Convoy” trucker-rapper C.W. McCall all made music at times harking back, somehow, to the white talking country blues of the Great Depression, long after most anybody remembered what was being harked back to. “Alabam” itself consists primarily of warmly recited couplets that, for all we know, could’ve survived on stages or in barn dances since Reconstruction days – about people down the street eating like wild geese, tramps in the cornfield, Sal with worn-down shoes tied onto her feet. Who knows anymore whether it was heard as a novelty, or whether its sound had simply retained backwoods currency over the decades?

Sleazy 1971 wet-dream song “Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It),” maybe the aesthetic spawn of both War’s “Spill The Wine” and Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding” from the year before, kinda creeped me out as a 10-year-old, since it concerned hippie girls with missing bikini tops and bottoms. Yet I’ve always remembered it as Saturday morning cartoon rock — and yep, sure enough, it was done for a cartoon called Sabrina and the Groovie Ghoulies, and Daddy Dewdrop was actually a Cleveland songwriter named Dick Monda. Rest of the album was clearly tossed off overnight, and nobody bought it because 10-year-olds back then only bought 45s not LPs, but it’s pretty wacked out — songs about “fox huntin'” and “diggin on Mrs. Jones,” but the weirdest titles are probably “March Of The White Corpuscles” and “Migraine Headaches,” the latter of which goes from Huey Smith to “You’re Sixteen” to some nutty vaudeville-rock prototype for Disco Tex and his Sex-O-Lettes.

Probably either as “rock” a disco album or as “disco” a rock album as ever existed — And yeah, as the muscular male camaraderie on the front and back cover indicate, Leather Nun-level leather-bar gay (seems the Skatt Bros were marketed as the “metal” Village People or thereabouts.) Best song, “Walk The Night,” sounds basically how Wax Trax fascist industrial fetish metal disco (KMFDM or whoever) should have sounded, almost a decade early. Most over-the-top hook: “I got a ROD beneath my coat/It’s gonna RAM right down your throat/Hooo-ahh!!!” Almost as good: “Life At The Outpost” (“give your love to a cowboy man/He’s gonna love ya hard as he can, can” – plus spaghetti western guitar parts) and “Midnight Companion” (ballad, country in mood if not mode, about disguising one’s self as a trucker to meet bikers to prevent lonely nights – best song ever to mention a Rand McNally map).

Funky Four Plus One’s 1981 “That’s The Joint” – quite possibly the most exhilarating record in the history of the human race, with five 17-year-olds thrusting the beat by swerving the beat and passing off lines behind backs like Globetrotters while lady plus-one Sha Rock rock-shocks the whole darn place — makes their 1980 “Rapping And Rocking The House” sound in comparison like the merely mindblowing rough draft it was.

At 32 minutes past two the morning of 16 January 1987, two Beastie Boys broke into my West Hollywood hotel room and dumped a wastebasket of extremely wet water on my head, my bed, the carpeting and my Converse All-Stars. (I’d stupidly left the chain-lock unsecured, and I suppose they bribed the night clerk into giving them a key.) Earlier that evening, after Pee-Wee Herman had visited their dressing room and before they appeared on Joan Rivers’ show, the Beasties were tossing parsley at me, dropping ice cubes in my hair, and “dissin’” (graffiti-artist lingo for “saying bad things about”) my brown socks and flannel shirt. I interpreted all of this to mean that they did not like me.

Nobody dared call it a German invasion, maybe because it would’ve been a really weird time for one, as the Cold War whittled down – hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops spread across West Germany (I was one of them, from 1982 to 1985); the Green Party breaking through nationally; the Red Army Faction exploding vehicles and soldiers near Heidelberg and Kaiserslautern and Frankfurt bases; 600,000 protesters showing up at a 1983 anti-nuke demonstration in West Berlin. But in 1984, a song sung in German, about nuclear annihilation, just happened to hit #2 on the American pop chart. English version on the flipside got airplay too: “This is what we’ve waited for, this is it boys, this is war. The president is on alert…super high-tech jet fighters…I’m standing pretty, in this dust that was a city.” The music was deliriously bouncy teenybop new wave; the video showed the singer, an adorably tom-boyish fraulein known as Nena, balancing on a log. Nena was her band’s name, too (more confusing than Blondie!), and her four West Berlin boy-pals were almost as cute as she was.

Boney M were influential deep into the third world in ways that have yet to be charted – Before M.I.A., for instance, they clearly inspired Midi, Maxi and Efti, three teenage-girl refugees from Ethiopia and Eritrea who united in Sweden in 1992 to make a flawless bubble-dance album immersed in ragga and the savanna, with one song imagining a “Sisterhood Of Africa” that hid daily from machine gun bullets; Columbia put the CD out in the U.S., where the single “Bad Bad Boys” snuck into the basement of the Hot 100, but they never made another record.

“We Are Frank Chickens” (“about us – Chicken gangsters – living in garbage,” the liner notes explain, a couple years before “gangsta rap” existed), features clucking sounds that could be M.I.A.’s “Bird Flu” two decades before the fact; “We Are Ninja” has Kazuko Hohki and Kazumi Taguchi, two Japanese women living in London, chopping you in two  and “hiding in the drains of Yokahama” where they beat up alligators then take a shower, all over a Mouse Trap game of poly-percussion and incidental sounds that culminates in a minefield detonating.

There may not be a darker, bluesier country hit in the post-Jimmy Carter era than this one – and certainly not one that crossed over to the upper reaches of the pop chart. Terri Gibbs was a blind pianist from suburban Augusta, Georgia who sang husky enough to pass for a man, or at least for Phoebe Snow; no doubt she’d listened to her share of Ray Charles as well. She started out gospel and eventually wound up back there again — “The wheel of life keeps turning as your carriage turns to rust,” as her other great hit, 1982’s extremely spare and spooky “Ashes To Ashes,” put it. “Somebody’s Knockin’” takes its pulse from Donna Summer’s proto-techno “I Feel Love,” and its haunted temptation from Robert Johnson: The blue-jeaned, blond-haired man at the door, asking Terri her place or his place, is the devil. “He must have known I was spending my nights alone/My body’s burning so he oughta feel right at home.” Even now, the song inspires quotable youtube comments: “Those blond cowboys are so hard to resist, even for a Presbyterian.” “Great song! Maybe somebody can do a metal or gothic-metal cover.”

Obviously peppier than anything I expected to hear from the Butthole Surfers again in my lifetime, and probably peppier than anything I heard from them before in my lifetime; only competition is “Hey”, from way back on their first ep a century ago, back when you couldn’t write the word “Butthole” in a newspaper, much less say it on the radio. The mere fact that these performance-art mutants have a pop hit is so mind-boggling that, well, it boggles the mind. The chorus (the quasi-Arabic twang of which makes me think “Yardbirds”) is lovely—my only question is how come Gibby smells me in his clothes instead of his nose (which is where I always smell me when I sing along). Some 16-year-old girl filled out the “physical description” block on her subscriber profile in our local Internet service’s online registry by writing in “YoU nEveR kNoW jUsT hOw YoU lOoK tHrOuGh OtHeR pEoPlE’s EyEs” (that’s how she typed it!), and I wished I’d thought of it first. The rap verses (which make me think “88 Lines about 44 Women” by the Nails more than “People Who Died” by Jim Carroll more than “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed) are sensationalist horseshit, recited too monotonally. But that’s what initially bugged me about “Loser” by Beck, too, and it still kinda does, though more when I’m thinking about it than when I’m hearing it. So maybe it’s just nitpicking.

Back in Marty Robbins’s “El Paso,” the way Robbins’s voice keens up on the high notes owes something to the fancy, super-emotional filigrees of boleros. It’s a technique which has weaved in and out of country music over the years; Roy Orbison was famous for it. But the country crooner who really made Latin music’s rococo vocal embellishments work was Mexican American. Raised in a family of migrant farm laborers, the man born Baldemar Huerta in Texas picked up his stage moniker Freddie Fender in the late ’50s, he says in the liner notes to his 1975 album Before the Next Teardrop Falls, as a way to sell his music to gringos, “but now I like the name.” And the title of his ornately quivering 1975 hit “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” (first recorded as rockabilly in 1959) sums up the theme of the ’90s-to-’00s country-goes-to-Mexico wave as perfectly as “Margaritaville” does: Wasting days and wasting nights is the expressed mission of songs like “Beer in Mexico” by Kenny Chesney.

Rock’n’roll history is written by the winners. Which stinks, because the losers have always played a big role in keeping rock interesting. Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil!: The Story Of Anvil takes that as a given, and has a hilarious, heartbreaking time proving the point. Core Anvil members guitarist/singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner – now in their 50s, but joined at the metal hip since they were 14 – respectively earn their keep as a driver for a children’s catering company and as a sometime construction contractor, in hardscrabble neighborhoods on the outskirts of Toronto. One of metal’s attractions has always been as a voice of the white working class, and no movie has ever made that identification so explicit. But honestly, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Kudlow trying to balance a cart loaded with three large vats of shepherd’s pie through the snow on the way to his van.

Perennially also-ran Motor City garage-revival outfit with nonetheless notably African American frontman resurrects archetypal 1981 Motor City proto-techno classic (theoretically inspired by Kano’s 1980 Italo-disco-metal “Holly Dolly,” though I’ve always heard Telex’s 1979 Belgian robo-electro “Moskow Diskow” at least as much) on Genuine Rock Instruments (usually a corny move at least in theory), makes a sonic rendezvous with Motor City muscle-car guitar-rock while retaining zee deceptive fake Continental Euro-accent that the previously nameless (until wgpr “Midnight Funk Association” dj Electrifying Mojo named them) A Number of Names had always preposterously used to chronicle their zeegarrrette-smoking and carrrcassette-blasting disco lounge-lizard cruising with his hot playmate in his Porsche 928 (significantly not a Detroit-made car) in the first place. Result: both the Sprocketiest U.S. quasi-Kraut-rock droned in decades, and a record that ties together seemingly unrelated cross-racial streams from America’s most musical city in ways even I had never imagined possible.

And I can hear Orleans’ innocuous 1975 soft-rock hit “Dance With Me” – a song I’ve never owned in any form or given a second’s thought – while shopping for zucchini at Fresh Plus, and I’m immediately flashed back through a mental wormhole to some sunny late afternoon early in tenth grade when I was both mortified and exhilarated by whatever limitless possibilities I associated with asking Shelly or maybe Barb to a high school dance (right, like it was the ‘50s or something), which I’m not sure I ever even got up the nerve to do. Old songs can do that.

Want to keep reading? Take 30% off Terminated for Reasons of Taste with code SAVE30.

Rio 2016: An Ethnomusicologist’s Dream

Today’s guest post is by ethnomusicologist Frederick Moehn, author of Contemporary Carioca: Technologies of Mixing in a Brazilian Music Scene, and Senior Lecturer at King’s College London.

978-0-8223-5155-9_pr“Fred, I’m in Rio and wherever you are, I hope you’re watching the Rio Opening Ceremonies. It’s an ethnomusicologist’s dream.”—email from a friend, Aug 5, 2016

Amidst the widely reported political and economic turmoil rocking Brazil, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games successfully kicked off in Rio de Janeiro last Friday. In the opening ceremony for these games music and musicians were as much a part of the narrative as the historical stories and ecological premonitions presented in the visuals. This was wise: what’s not to like about a scintillating samba school parade with the swinging drumming of a bateria, or Jorge Ben Jor leading the jubilant crowd through his classic “País Tropical” (Tropical country), or a duet between singers Zeca Pagodinho and Marcelo D2 that seamlessly slides back and forth between samba and hip-hop, or a solo voice and acoustic guitar performance of the national anthem by the urbane septuagenarian Paulinho da Viola?

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I watched on television from tropical New York City, where I am working on a project about one of Brazil’s least athletic genres: bossa nova. This cool, middle class music emerged in Rio in the late 1950s and conquered the U.S. a few years later, particularly after the release of “The Girl from Ipanema” featuring João Gilberto and his wife Astrud on the classic Getz/Gilberto album of 1964.

Meanwhile at the Games, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen performed the “role” of The Girl in, as one NBC commentator put it, a “sultry walk” through the Maracanã soccer stadium. A long walk it was, so Bündchen had to balance grace with speed as she glided in a floor-length silvery dress toward a massive image of the young Tom Jobim, the prolific bossa nova composer who wrote the music to “Garota de Ipanema,” as the song is known in Portuguese. Jobim’s photograph was projected on a structure comprised of giant building blocks that jaggedly rose from the stadium floor for various scenes of the ceremony; perched atop one of these during Bündchen’s catwalk was Daniel Jobim at a grand piano. With his panama hat, wispy voice, and gentle articulations of the syncopated chords on the keys, Jobim quietly ventriloquized his grandfather.

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An interesting aspect of Brazilian popular music, perhaps especially in Rio, is the way it often reflects upon its own history and pays homage to its “elders”: from 79-year-old samba diva Elsa Soares to 90-year-old percussionist Wilson das Neves, who “called” the spirits of Rio’s musical ancestors while accompanying himself with a matchbox shaker, to Tropicália legends Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, both in their 70s, singing a samba from the 1940s: Ary Barroso’s “Isso aqui, o que é” (What is all this?). It is what has been termed an “exaltation samba,” a type of radio-oriented song that celebrated the nation in the years of populist dictator Getúlio Vargas’s hold on power (1930-1945). In the lyrics, a brief reference to the happy, singing nation quickly shifts to phrases about a brown skinned woman (morena) who is adept at swaying her hips. For this performance, the rising star Anitta, from Rio, joined Veloso and Gil on the stage to sing the line, “Morena boa que me faz penar, põe a sandália de prata, e vem pro samba sambar” (roughly, “Nice brown woman who makes me suffer, put on your silver sandals and come dance samba”). Then the accompaniment mutated into a faster, driving rhythm as the major samba “schools” paraded through the stadium in brightly colored fantasias (carnival costumes). More recent musical tendencies privileging electronics such as the funk carioca tamborzão beat, or the techno-brega of Gang do Eletro from Belém do Pará, way up North, or São Paulo rap, were also woven into the intricate soundtrack of the event.

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The creative director for the spectacle, filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (dir. City of God), spoke of tight budgets and keeping things simple. More modest than the London and Beijing openers, this one was also in a way more personal and charming. Not quite melancholy, neither was it exuberant. Meirelles said he didn’t want it to be about props and ceremony as much as heart and soul. It should serve as a kind of anti-depressant drug for Brazil, he hoped.

Much of the musical story, however, was lost on NBC’s producers (who evidently did not think to engage an ethnomusicologist). Even many Brazilians might not have noted the inclusion of Chico Buarque’s menacing 1971 song “Construção” during a scene featuring dancers leaping around rising stacks of colorful urban edifices as if doing parkour (choreographed by Deborah Colker). Lacking the vocal part, the song was recognizable in the driving bass ostinato from Rogerio Duprat’s original arrangement and the strains of its tense, high melodic line in timbres that evoked anti-establishment songwriter Tom Zé’s late work.

Buarque claimed that “Construção,” which narrates a brick layer’s fall to death, was not a protest song against the military dictatorship (1964-1985), but many contemporary listeners heard it that way. Perhaps this was because his 1971 recording segued directly into Buarque’s “Deus lhe pague” (May God reward you), to increasingly anxious music. Excerpts from Charles Perrone’s translation of that song’s lyrics give a sense of the significance of “Construção/Deus lhe pague” to some older Brazilians:

For this bread to eat, this floor to sleep on
A certificate to be born, a concession to smile
For letting me breathe, for letting me exist
May God reward you

For the free liquor that we have to swallow
For the curse of smoke that we have to cough
For the dripping scaffolding from which we fall
May God reward you

As I watched this scene of the ceremony, I imagined that Meirelles camouflaged a cautious admonition to Brazil’s political elite—who are ensnared in corruption scandals and the impeachment of the country’s first woman president—to preserve democracy and protect the rights of citizens, including those least privileged. But despite the brittle scaffolding buttressing the nation (and these Games), Brazilian music never seems to let gloom overpower pleasure; less pliant than gold, it may be the country’s sturdiest cement.

New Books in July

We are excited to open our Fall 2016 season with these wonderful books, coming out in July. From Black music to the Cold War, we have something for everyone. Keep an eye out for these books this month.


Flyboy 2 provides a panoramic view of the last thirty years of Greg Tate’s influential cultural criticism of contemporary Black music, art, literature, film, and politics. These essays, interviews, and reviews cover everything from Miles Davis, Ice Cube, and Suzan Lori Parks to Afro-futurism, Kara Walker, and Amiri Baraka.

In Real Pigs Brad Weiss traces the desire for creating “authentic” local foods in the Piedmont region of central North Carolina as he follows farmers, butchers, and chefs as they breed, raise, butcher, market, sell, and prepare their pasture-raised hogs for consumption.


from washingtonIn Cold War Ruins Lisa Yoneyama argues that the efforts intensifying since the 1990s to bring justice to the victims of Japanese military and colonial violence have generated what she calls a “transborder redress culture” that has the potential to bring powerful challenging perspectives on American exceptionalism, militarized security, justice, sovereignty, forgiveness, and decolonization.

In From Washington to Moscow veteran US Foreign Service officer Louis Sell draws archival sources and memoirs—many in Russian—as well as his own experiences to trace the history of US–Soviet relations between 1972 and 1991 and to explain what caused the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Nation Within is the complex history of the events between the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 and its annexation to the United States in 1898. Highlighting the native Hawaiians’ resistance during that five year span, Tom Coffman shows why occupying Hawaii was crucial to American imperial ambitions.

this thing called.jpgDebjani Ganguly’s This Thing Called the World theorizes the contemporary global novel and the social and historical conditions that shaped it, showing how in 1989 the consolidation of the information age, the perpetual state of war, and the focus on humanitarianism transformed the novel into a form that addresses contemporary social, technological, and political upheavals.

Offering a new queer theorization of Melodrama, Jonathan Goldberg explores the ways melodramatic film and literature provide an aesthetics of impossibility and how melodrama as a whole provides queer ways to promote identifications that exceed the bounds of the identity categories that regulate and constrain social life.

color of violenceIn Encoding Race, Encoding Class Sareeta Amrute explores the lives of Indian IT coders temporarily working in Berlin, showing how their cognitive labor reimagines race and class and how their acceptance and resistance to their work offers new potentials for alternative visions of living and working in neoliberal economies.

Presenting the fierce and vital writing of organizers, lawyers, scholars, poets, and policy makers, Color of Violence radically repositions the antiviolence movement by putting women of color at its center, covers violence against women of color in its myriad manifestations, and maps strategies of movement building and resistance.




Happy 90th Birthday to Randy Weston

WestonCoverToday we are thrilled to wish jazz pianist and bandleader Randy Weston a happy 90th birthday! Weston is one of the world’s most influential jazz musicians and a remarkable storyteller whose career has spanned five continents and more than seven decades. We published his memoir African Rhythms in 2010 to much acclaim.

Several birthday events are scheduled in Brooklyn and New York City.

Friday, April 8th: Jazz 966, joined by Sistas’ Place, the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium andUp Over Jazz Productions, are throwing an All Star Musical Birthday Tribute including guests Kenny Barron, Donald Smith, Sonny Fortune, Jimmy Owens, Winard Harper and Robin Kelley.

Saturday, April 16th: the Jazz Foundation of America features a Jazz Loft Party with Randy joining them for a birthday celebration at the VIP reception.

Tuesday, April 26th: Randy Weston’s African Rhythms Quartet plays at the Dweck Center, Brooklyn Public Library.

Thursday, April 28th: Concert at The New School to celebrate the end of Weston’s residency there.

Saturday, April 30th: An afternoon conversation with Randy Weston at the Dweck Center, Brooklyn Public Library

Happy Birthday, Randy. May you continue making wonderful music for years to come!

New Books in April

We have so many great books coming out in April. Want to be sure never to miss a new book? Sign up for Subject Matters emails to hear when these, and other new books, are released.

BioinsecuritiesIn Bioinsecurities Neel Ahuja shows how twentieth-century U.S. imperial expansion was dependent on controlling the spread of disease through the transformation of humans, animals, bacteria, and viruses into living theaters of warfare and securitization.

In Tropical Renditions Christine Bacareza Balance examines how the performance and reception of post-World War II Filipino and Filipino American popular music provide crucial tools for composing Filipino identity, publics, and politics as well as challenge dominant racial stereotypes.

Volume XIII of The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers covers the period between August 1921 and August 1922. During this particularly tumultuous time, Garvey suffered legal, political, and financial trouble, while the UNIA struggled to grow throughout the Caribbean.

travel & seeIn Plastic Bodies Emilia Sanabria examines how women’s use of sex hormones in Bahia, Brazil for menstrual suppression shapes social relations, having become central to contemporary understandings of the body, class, gender, sex, personhood, modernity, and Brazilian national identity.

Kobena Mercer’s Travel & See covers the period from 1992 to 2012,  using a diasporic model of criticism to analyze the cross-cultural aesthetic practice of African American and black British artists and to show how their refiguring of visual representations of blackness transform perceptions of race.

In Metabolic Living Harris Solomon studies obesity and
diabetes in Mumbai, India, presenting a new narrative of metabolic illness in which it is less about the overconsumption of food than it is about the body’s relationship to its environment and the substances it absorbs.

Gloria Wekker’s White Innocence explores a central paradox of Dutch life—the passionate denial of racial discrimination and colonial violence coexisting alongside aggressive racism and xenophobia—to show how the narrative of Dutch racial exceptionalism elides the Netherland’s colonial past and safeguards white privilege.

Winner of the 2011 Thomas E. Skidmore Prize, this new translation of Paulo Fontes’s Migration and the Making of Industrial São Paulo is a detailed social history of the millions who migrated from Brazil’s Northeast to São Paulo.

A major intervention into Indian historiography, Dalit Studies recovers the long history of Dalit struggles against caste violence, exclusion, and discrimination by focusing on the importance of humiliation, dignity, and spatial exclusion to Dalit emancipatory politics.

First published in Portuguese in 2006, Walter Fraga’s Crossroads of Freedom brings readers into the world of the last generation of enslaved men, women, and children who toiled in Bahia’s sugar plantations and later struggled to make lives for themselves following Brazil’s abolition of slavery in 1888.

the voice and its doublesIn The Voice and its Doubles Daniel Fisher explores the production of Aboriginal Australian audio media, showing how the mediatization of the Aboriginal voice provides the means to representing and linking Indigenous communities, maintaining distinct linguistic and cultural traditions, and gaining access to Australian political life.

Susan Bibler Coutin’s Exiled Home recounts the experiences of Salvadoran children who migrated with their families to the United States during the 1980-1992 civil war, examining how they sought to understand and overcome the trauma of war and displacement.

undoing.jpgIn Undoing Monogamy Angela Willey analyzes the contemporary science of monogamy, demanding a critical reorientation toward the understanding of monogamy and non-monogamy in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Building on the possibilities opened up by Ethnic Studies, this volume promotes open dialogue, discussion, and debate regarding Critical Ethnic Studies‘ expansive, politically complex, and intellectually rich concerns on topics ranging from multiculturalism and the neoliberal university to the militarized security state.