Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Prince, R.I.P.


My social media news feed has been deluged with eulogies to him over the past eighteen hours. Just about everyone I know—and many more I don’t—is heaping praise on him, as one of the greatest musical artists in modern times. I won’t say he was my absolute favorite but I did like him. Of course. How could anyone of my generation not? He was an exceptionally talented and versatile musician, and amazing on stage (rewatching some of his concert videos, which I have on DVD—they’re impossible to find free online—confirms this). And ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and ‘When Doves Cry’ are among the great pop hits of my early adult life (playlist here). One video that is online—thanks to the NFL—is Prince’s halftime performance at the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami, in the midst of a rainstorm. He was incredible. Watch it here. It’s a must. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

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David Bowie, R.I.P.


I learned about it in the past hour. I had no idea he had terminal cancer, and apparently few outside his family did either. Everyone was taken by surprise, as France Inter has been saying since the news broke. He was one of my favorite singers—in the top five—from the moment I was turned on to ‘Ziggy Stardust’—one of the greatest rock albums of all time—at age 16, in precisely the fall of 1972. I never got to see him in concert, though did watch an entire one of his on ARTE in the past decade—I think it was Dublin and may or may not have been live—during which I kept telling myself ‘he is so cool’ and so excellent. Last May I went to the touring exhibition David Bowie Is at the Philharmonie de Paris. A great expo. Voilà, c’est tout c’que j’ai à dire. R.I.P.

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[update below]

The New York Met’s performance of the opera has gotten numerous Jews and others in the pro-Israel camp all worked up and bent out of shape, even though almost all of those who are protesting the opera’s staging—on account of its putative justifying of terrorism and backhanded antisemtism—haven’t actually seen it. Adam Shatz did see a dress rehearsal of the opera at the Met last weekend, however, and, in a review posted on the LRB blog, has pronounced it to be very good, hardly antisemitic, and that in no way apologizes for terrorism. As far as I’m concerned, if Adam says it is so, that means it is so.

UPDATE: Paul Berman has an essay in Tablet magazine, “Klinghoffer at the Met,” that is worth reading.

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bobby womack

I listened to him as a kid and teen, in the late ’60s-early ’70s. His best song—and there is likely a consensus on this—was “Across 110th Street”—which got a second life in Quentin Tarantino’s great ‘Jackie Brown’, in one of the greatest ever opening movie scenes (watch here).

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Lou Reed, R.I.P.

Lou Reed

He was one of my favorites in my mid-late teens—in the 1972-75 years. I loved ‘Transformer’, his chef d’œuvre. ‘Berlin’ wasn’t bad, so far as I remember, and I liked his earlier albums with the Velvet Underground. And I saw him twice in concert: at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater in fall 1973 and in Dayton Ohio in fall 1974 (my freshman year of college). Voilà his best songs: Walk on the Wild Side, Vicious, Perfect Day, Satellite of Love, Sweet Jane, Heroin

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This is the film that won the Oscar for best documentary last month, beating out ‘The Gatekeepers‘. Having just seen it, I’m hardly surprised. ‘The Gatekeepers’ is a first-rate documentary, as I wrote last week, but there was no way this one was not going to get the Oscar. It is a wonderful, exhilarating film and that tells an absolutely amazing story, about Sixto Rodriguez, a great American singer who is practically unknown in America (including by me until now). Rodriguez, who is 70 years old, has lived his entire life in Detroit and been a manual laborer for most of it, became a musician on the side, and cut two albums in the early ’70s. His music is Bob Dylan-esqe and is every bit as good as Dylan’s. Even better. But his records did not sell, he got practically no publicity, and hardly played outside bars in Detroit. His career as a musician went nowhere and was soon abandoned. But his albums made it to Cape Town, South Africa, at the time, where his music became huge among progressive whites chafing under the chape de plomb of apartheid—and what was a repressive regime even for whites—, and inspired anti-apartheid Afrikaner singers. From the early ’70s to the mid ’90s Rodriguez’s albums sold maybe half a million copies in South Africa, where he was “bigger than Elvis,” except that no one in South Africa knew a thing about who he was. The country was subject to sanctions and boycotts, isolated from the rest of the world, and in the pre-Internet era there was no way for anyone there to get information on him. And Rodriguez knew nothing of his popularity in South Africa (and saw no royalties from his record sales). His fans in South Africa thought he was dead, having killed himself on stage in the US, so rumor had it. The documentary recounts how Rodriguez and his South African fans serendipitously found each other in 1997 and of his trip there the following year, where he was received as a big time rock star. It’s a great story and very moving. Here are the reviews by Roger Ebert and Manohla Dargis. French reviews are stellar, as is the word-of-mouth in Paris, where the film is still playing three months after it opened.

The film’s director is Malik Bendjelloul, who is Algerian-Swedish, and it’s a Swedish production (filmed in Detroit and Cape Town).

As for Rodriguez’s music, it’s great. My wife bought his CDs after seeing the movie and we’ve been listening to them.

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Serge Gainsbourg

La Poste timbre de 2001

This post has nothing to do with anything that’s happening these days, or even with anything that’s on my mind, but I was recently telling my American students about Serge Gainsbourg, none of whom had heard of him. Before their time and he was never well-known in the US anyway. But he was huge in France, one of its major musical artists from the late ’50s to his premature death in ’91, and who wrote and composed all his music. And he was an outrageous personality. I told the class that I’d do a blog post with my favorite Gainsbourg songs—just about everyone’s favorites, in fact—, so voilà, here they are via YouTube (in chronological order).

Le poinçonneur des Lilas (1958). On a day in the life of the ticket-puncher (poinçonneur) at the Porte des Lilas metro station.

La Javanaise (1963). In honor of chanteuse Juliette Gréco.

New York U.S.A. (1964). Gainsbourg, the little Frenchy, goes to New York City and marvels at how tall the buildings are. Amusing. And tongue-in-cheek.

Bonnie and Clyde (1968). With Brigitte Bardot. They had a brief romantic involvement. Gainsbourg had numerous (brief) romantic involvements.

Initials B.B. (1968). Gainsbourg’s ode to Brigitte Bardot. Great song.

Je t’aime…moi non plus (1969). With Jane Birkin (his longest romantic involvement, and from which came his one child, Charlotte Gainsbourg, a well-known actress since her teen years). Probably his most famous and beloved song. It caused a scandal at the time.

Élisa (1969). Gainsbourg singing his love for a woman (typically) younger than he.

Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais (1973). Inspired by his near death experience following his first heart attack (he had five), after which he increased his (already heavy) consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

Sea, Sex and Sun (1977). With Jane Birkin. There’s also an English version.

Dieu fumeur de havanes (1980). With Catherine Deneuve. God smokes Havana cigars. Or Gitanes (Gainsbourg’s brand, brun and unfiltered). The disappearance from public places (cafés, restaurants, offices, everywhere) of the unique, pungent aroma of dark tobacco Gitanes and Gauloises smoke is one of the many changes in France of the past three decades (no smoking laws, changing tastes in tobacco).

Here is the (in)famous meeting of Gainsbourg—who had descended into near permanent drunkenness and goujaterie—and Whitney Houston on Michel Drucker‘s show (one of the most watched in France) in 1986.

A biopic, Gainsbourg (vie héroïque), came out three years ago. I was somewhat disappointed with it. It’s not as good as the recent biopic of Claude François, though may be seen.

On the occasion of the biopic’s release in the US last year, Salon.com asked several US musicians to share their favorite Gainsbourg songs. The choices are somewhat different from mine.

gainsbourg vie heroique

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