NEWS ROUNDUP: International Women’s Day, Leaving Neverland, and MORE

Maggie Rogers, Mavis Staples, Phoebe Bridgers and Brandi Carlile meet at Newport Music Fest. Photo by Danny Clinch. The artists shared this photo along with messages of empowerment for International Women’s Day via Twitter.

It’s International Women’s Day!

Though some form of International Women’s Day has been around since 1909, the holiday celebrating women around the world has really gained traction over the last decade. This year’s theme was #BalanceForBetter, seeking to promote a more gender balanced world. Here’s how our favorite ladies in the music world celebrated.

  • Cardi B made a playlist on Apple Music for the occasion, featuring visionary women (including Grace Jones, Madonna, Tina Turner, and Solange).
  • Sharon Van Etten and Courtney Barnett both appeared as a guest curators for Amazon’s music streaming platform.
  • Ariana Grande tweeted a short video by director Hanna Lux Davis, reminding everyone a few tweets later “it ain’t feminism if it ain’t intersectional.”

  • Rihanna looked powerful in a black blazer.

  • Miley Cyrus shouted out some of her favorite bad ass bitches:

  • … while Lady Gaga paid tribute to her mama.

  • Maggie Rogers and Mavis Staples both reminisced via this photo with Phoebe Bridgers and Brandi Carlile.

  • Dua Lipa had some tea for those who fall short of protecting human rights.

  • And Micropixie released a video for Como Mínimo (#YesIsTheMinimum), from her upcoming LP Dark Sight of the Moon, out April 9.

The Fallout of Leaving Neverland

The explosive HBO Documentary about Michael Jackson’s alleged child abuse, Leaving Neverland, aired last weekend, and unsurprisingly, folks are divided on its message. Though the allegations are nothing new (Jackson settled a child abuse case out of court in 1994, and was acquitted in a similar case with a different victim in 2005) the harrowing testimonies of two men who say they were abused by Jackson when they were 7 and 10 are hard to dismiss. Radio stations have pulled Jackson’s enduring pop hits,  The Simpsons producers have pulled iconic episode “Stark Raving Dad” from the syndication due to Jackson’s guest voice over, and a Chicago run of biographical jukebox musical “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” was cancelled, though its team said this occurred due to scheduling difficulties and that they’ve set their sights on Broadway in 2020. Jackson’s daughter, Paris, seemed unfazed in a series of tweets in which she told folks to “chillax” – implying that even if Jackson’s legacy took a huge hit, his $500 million estate would ultimately be unaffected by the doc (though they’d previously filed a lawsuit to block it from airing). Meanwhile, debate continues to rage regarding blame placed on the victims’ parents, the degree to which Joe Jackson’s horrific behavior absolves his son’s various issues (including the alleged child abuse) and, of course, the idea that Jackson himself is an innocent victim of a slanderous campaign. One thing is certain: Jackson’s story is ultimately one of the saddest in pop music history, taking into account his tarnished childhood, various tabloid scandals, untimely death due to physician-sanctioned drug abuse – and it’s only compounded by the suffering of his alleged victims.

That New New

Solange has blessed the world with the (semi) surprise release of When I Get Home, her follow-up to 2016’s show-stopping A Seat at the Table.

Cementing their legacy as Jersey’s favorite pop punks, The Bouncing Souls released the second single from their forthcoming 30th anniversary EP Crucial Moments, out March 15. Their massive tour kicks off the next day at Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall.

Vampire Weekend have shared two new tracks from their upcoming Father of the Bride LP, out in May

Mac DeMarco announced his next record Here Comes the Cowboy with a single called “Nobody,” giving Mitski fans a little déjà vu; both artists (and their shared PR team) say it’s just a coincidence.

Bedouine is back with a one-off single that reflects on the aftermath of her gorgeous 2017 self-titled debut.

SOAK has released another lovely singled from April 26 release Grim Town., announcing some US tour dates (including two at SXSW) to go with it.

Alan Vega’s final recordings have been released to benefit the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, which provides teaching materials to educators seeking to engage students by teaching pop music history. The Suicide co-founder passed away in 2016.

Everyone loves a corgi – and that includes illuminati hotties, who are very honest about the fact that sometimes doggos are are the only thing keeping us in a mediocre relationship. They’ll be in Austin next week for SXSW.

Stef Chura has announced her sophomore record Midnight with its lead single “Method Man.”

Blushh shared a one-off single to get folks pumped for their upcoming SXSW dates as well.

Toronto punks Greys have announced third LP Age Hasn’t Spoiled You, out May 10, sharing its first single “These Things Happen.”

Rick from Pile remains the biggest babe in all of DIY indie rock; this week the band released their latest single and announced forthcoming LP Green and Gray, out May 3.

In other DIY news, Patio ready themselves for the April 5 release of Essentials with their latest track, “New Reality.”

NOTS have seemingly recovered from their recent lineup changes and shared the first single from their upcoming LP 3, out May 10. Two of its members are also releasing an LP this year as Hash Redactor.

The National have announced a new collaborative project with director Mike Mills entitled I Am Easy To Find. It’s essentially an hour-long companion album to a 24-minute short film of the same name starring Alicia Vikander. The first track on the album, “You Had Your Soul With You,” has some guest stars as well – Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables of This Is the Kit, The Brooklyn Youth Choir, and longtime David Bowie bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey lend vocals. The band have announced a bunch of tour dates with Courtney Barnett and Alvvays supporting.

Local Natives released two videos this week, one of which stars Kate Mara. Both will appear on the April 26 release of Violet Street, a follow-up to 2016’s Sunlit Youth; they’ve previously announced a slew of tour dates.

Sky Blue, a posthumous collection of unreleased material from celebrated singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, arrived March 7 to commemorate what would’ve been his 75th birthday.

Kishi Bashi returns with new LP Omoiyari on May 31, and has released the album’s first single, “Summer of ’42”.

Charly Bliss have shared a video for “Chatroom,” the second single from their upcoming record Young Enough, out May 10.

CupcakKe keeps it topical with a new single entitled “Bird Box,” referencing the recent Netflix horror movie and the Jussie Smollett controversy alike.

Having penned Grammy-nominated hits for Ariana Grande and Janelle Monae, Tayla Parx is poised to break out on her own with a highly anticipated solo debut on Atlantic Records, We Need to Talk, out April 5. Her latest video for “I Want You” follows earlier singles “Slow Dancing” and “Me vs. Us.”

Christian Fennesz, who records electronic music under his last name, returns to basics with a new 12-minute track called “In My Room,” from forthcoming 4-song LP Agora, out March 29.

Ahead of the April 12 release of No Geography, The Chemical Brothers share a video for “We’ve Got To Try.”

Festival faves Marshmello and CHVRCHES have collaborated on a sugary new single titled “Here With Me.”

Dido’s first record since 2013, Still on My Mind, is out today; her first tour in fifteen years hits the US in June.

End Notes

  • The Prodigy singer Keith Flint was found dead of apparent suicide at the age of 49.
  • I would unironically love to attend one of these West Coast Man Man shows featuring “Friday” singer Rebecca Black.
  • Gayle King interviewed R. Kelly for CBS regarding the sexual abuse allegations against him, prompting an explosive on-camera outburst from the singer that has been widely discussed. We’re so tired.
  • Swedish black metal band Watain have been banned from performing in Singapore due to their “history of denigrating religions and promoting violence.”
  • NYC concert-goers spontaneously burst into song on the ACE platform following a sold-out Robyn show at MSG.
  • Speaking of Robyn, she’s been announced as one of the headliners for Pitchfork Music Festival, which takes place in Chicago from July 19-21. HAIM and the Isley Brothers top Friday and Saturday’s bills respectively, with Stereolab, Mavis Staples, Belle & Sebastian, Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, Tirzah, Kurt Vile, Low, Julia Holter, Rico Nasty, Neneh Cherry, Snail Mail, Khruangbin, Soccer Mommy, Amber Mark, CHAI, and more set to play as well.
  • While we’re on the subject of festivals, Variety has leaked a potential lineup for Woodstock 50 and it’s not exactly overflowing with “heritage” acts; Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, and Black Keys look like likely headliners.
  • Elton John tweeted an definite release date in October 2019 for his upcoming memoir.
  • Massive Attack have rescheduled some of the North American Mezzanine reunion tour dates due to illness.
  • You can buy the hospital gown that Kurt Cobain wore during a legendary 1992 Reading Festival Nirvana performance for a mere $50,000.
  • L7’s Donita Sparks emerged as a hero when, in true punk fashion, Marky Ramone and Johnny Rotten nearly came to blows at a panel discussion on upcoming John Varvatos and Iggy Pop-produced Epix docu-series Punk.
  • Morrissey is taking his upcoming covers record California Sun to Broadway.
  • Taylor Swift stalker Roger Alvarado was arrested for breaking into the pop star’s home again, fresh off of a stint in jail for the same charge (bringing his Swift-related arrest total to three).
  • Arcade Fire will reportedly cover “Baby Mine” in Tim Burton’s live-action Dumbo remake, and it’s a real family affair.
  • Mark your sundials – Red Hot Chili Peppers will stream a live concert from the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt on March 15.

ONLY NOISE: Waterloo

Waterloo always sounded like an exotic place to me, an English garden oasis dotted with fountains and plum trees and those little stone statues of naked angel-babies. The name suggested a swan pond, croquet matches, and crustless triangle sandwiches served at 3 p.m. for tea. Little did I know that the “Waterloo” Ray Davies was singing about in the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset,” which first topped the pop charts 51 years ago this week, in fact referred to a bustling train station in the center of London, far removed from the green gardens I’d imagined.

It took living in London to come to this realization. Prior to moving there at 21, I had a vague and filmic idea of the place, which would be better described as ignorant and romantic. I had no perception of London as a real metropolis. Like my relationship with New York before moving here, I simply knew I would love it. I decided to love it. And most of that preemptive love came from the British music I listened to as a child and into my teenage years. The influence of U.K. rock stars and punk urchins so influenced my tastes that as a middle schooler I dreamt up a future business plan that paid homage to my heroes across the pond.

When I was about 12 or 13, I let my dad in on this grand scheme of mine. I told him that when I was older, I was going to open a concert venue (/record store/clothing store/cafe, obviously). I would call it, “The London Underground.” My dad, a person who had actually been to London, as well as many other places, explained to me that this name was already taken, and the use of the word “underground” in that name did not mean “obscure” or “edgy,” but “underground” in the most literal sense. This was because that name belonged to the London metropolitan commuter train, which was in fact, subterranean. It would take me a decade to experience what he was talking about firsthand, but by then I’d at least figured out that owning your own brick and mortar business was a pain in the ass, anyway.

For years I subconsciously learned about different parts of London from songs by my favorite bands. The names of neighborhoods and streets would slip out of the mouths of the Jam’s Paul Weller and the Streets’ Mike Skinner, and funnel straight into my memory, where I kept them tucked away as useless scraps of information about a place I’d never been. The English music I loved so much was imparting me with a partial education on the city all along, but I wasn’t able to utilize until I moved there.

I knew from my favorite Tom Waits songs, for instance, that the “dirty old river” Ray Davies sang about in “Waterloo Sunset” was pronounced “temms,” not “Thames” despite its spelling. I’d like to think this saved me from being pegged as “too American” by my British friends, but my refusal to call bathrooms “the toilet” doomed me from day one. I knew there was a Wardour Street from one of the many Jam songs I loved in college, though I did not know where this “Wardour Street” was. When Morrissey sang about “Battersea” in “You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” I thought he was saying “All I’m about to see;” I had no idea he was talking about a South London power plant. I gleaned that Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook was singing about a poor couple getting pregnant and falling on hard times in “Up the Junction,” but didn’t realize the title was a pun combining a British euphemism for pregnancy (“up the duff”) and the northeastern neighborhood of Clapham Junction until I was informed otherwise.

When I moved to New York, the city felt paved with scenes from my favorite movies. When I moved to London, I navigated its circular streets with lines from my favorite songs. These songs followed me as much as I followed them, and my daily commute often felt like an interactive playlist. In 2013 I moved back to London for a summer, and spent two months interning at a fashion house in the southwest corner of the city. My commute took about two hours each way, as I lived on the exact opposite side of town. I’d get on the bus at Clapton Pond at 7 a.m. and transfer at Victoria station roughly an hour later. The moment the bus docked at Victoria, my mind’s DJ would invariably cue up “Victoria” by the Kinks. This was the schedule everyday, and it at times felt like the “I Got You Babe” alarm clock in Groundhog Day. Same song. Same Time. Every day.

From my second story bus seat I could see every street name as we rounded their corners. These were names I knew well, but I didn’t understand the significance of them until those early morning commutes. I passed by Wardour Street, where fortunately, there was no a-bomb. I saw signs for Brixton Station, which brought to mind the Clash’s dub-heavy classic “The Guns of Brixton.” I passed Trafalgar Square, and  Leicester Square, and Sloane Square, each of which was lassoed to a song in my memory.

These associations are deeply ingrained in my hippocampus, and it never took much for a particular song to spill from my subconscious into my waking mind. When passing Vauxhall station, I thought only of Morrissey’s 1993 solo record Vauxhall and I. When my bus careened through Piccadilly Circus, Morrissey was there, too, with his brazen opening track from 1990’s Bona Drag, “Piccadilly Palare.” At times it felt like my brain was home to a 6-CD changer that swapped discs with the slightest provocation. After five years of living Stateside, things have changed: now when I listen to my favorite U.K. bands, I can picture the days when I stood exactly where they sing about.

NEWS ROUNDUP: RIP Fats Domino, Alice Glass Alleges Abuse & More

  • Fats Domino Dies At Age 89

    The singer and pianist from New Orleans penned a number of hits, like “I’m Walkin'” and “Ain’t That a Shame,” that defined 1950s rock ’n’ roll by blending occasionally the sounds of his hometown with R&B. His part in the genre was highly influential; Elvis referred to him as the real king of rock ’n’ roll, and he was one of the first to make it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. After news of his death on Wednesday, New Orleans honored him by throwing a street party. In Texas, artists such as Elvis Costello, Dr. John and Trombone Shorty covered his songs at the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame induction. Watch below:

  • Alice Glass Alleges Abuse Against Bandmate

    In a harrowing post on her website, Alice Glass revealed why she actually left Crystal Castles in  2014. She details a history of both emotional and physical abuse by bandmate Ethan Kath, starting when she was just 15, before the band became successful. Kath has denied the allegations, but the new iteration of Crystal Castles (which includes Edith Frances in place of Glass) was dropped from upcoming show and festival dates. An old article from 2008 appears to back up many details of her statement. Read the full thing here.

  • Other Highlights

    Julia Holter also speaks out about Matt Mondanile, Eminem donates lawsuit money to hurricane victims, Franz Ferdinand announce new song/album, listen to Gord Downie’s final albumSam Smith opens up about gender, watch new videos from Morrissey, Spoon, Angel Olsen and War On Drugs, Billy Corgan covers Miley Cyrus, an all-women music festival, let Beyonce tell your future with Beyonséance, and a Buffy The Vampire Slayer inspired video from Charly Bliss.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Market Hotel Is Back, NYC’s Cabaret Law & More


  • Market Hotel Ends Their Hiatus

    Bushwick’s Market Hotel will host shows again starting on November 1st, with yet-unannounced special guests playing the grand reopening show. It’s been out of commission while Todd P. and his crew secure the proper licenses t0 turn the longstanding DIY club into a legit venue (in the eyes of NYC officials), but will soon be back with a new sound system. The next batch of announced shows include Tera Melos with Speedy Ortiz, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die with Rozwell Kid, Pile with Bad History Month, Titus Andronicus, Black Marble, and Royal Trux. See the full schedule and buy tickets here!

  • NYC May Finally Repeal Its Cabaret Law

    In 1926, the Cabaret Law was created to forbid dancing in certain spaces without a license. Many have pointed out the racist implications of the law, which mostly targeted black jazz clubs in Harlem and required its musicians and employees to submit to a background check. In modern times, the law has added a mountain of paperwork to bars and clubs that want to host events with dancing, but hopefully not for much longer; the Mayor’s office has expressed support for repealing the law, as long as certain clubs are required to install more security cameras. NYC, get ready to dance!

  • Other Highlights

    Yoko Ono will voice a character in Wes Anderson’s latest stop-motion feature, Isle of Dogs, Rolling Stone is up for sale, Morissey joins Twitter and announces new song/album, women are keeping guitar makers in business, new videos from Bjork, Downtown Boys, Leonard Cohen and Torres, Avril Lavigne is apparently very, very dangerous, please don’t try to make out with musicians while they’re on stage, Taylor Swift may end up in court yet again, and ICYMI, the Juggalos marched on Washington.

ONLY NOISE: Summertime Blues

The shorts are out. The pasty, prickly legs wearing the shorts are out, too. It’s sunny every day and we’re starting to remember that we own arms, and shins, and sandals. Birds chirp in the morning, cats moan at night, and hemlines rise with the temperatures. Isn’t it great?

That all depends. Sure, we’re in pleasant weather now, but before you know it you’ll be sweating through pants and underpants, kicking your bedmate away at night, and trying to schmooze your way into the esteemed echelons of friends with air conditioning units.

Summer is upon us early this year, prompting me to address my fellow shade seekers. Don’t worry, I can’t #summer either. How could I? I don’t play ultimate Frisbee. My surfing lessons started and stopped on a wave-less day at Rockaway Beach. I can “ride a bike” only in the capacity that I can “cook” – for survival purposes alone. And until they can make a bikini out of a black turtleneck and a motorcycle jacket, I will feel perpetually out of place in summer outfits, or as some call them, “dresses.”

So what are we supposed to listen to on the 85-degree days, crouched under patches of shade while everyone else at the BBQ dances to “summer jamz”? Don’t we get an anti-Ibiza anthem? In fact, there are plenty of songs commiserating with our Heliophobia. And yes, most of them are by Morrissey. The lugubrious Brit couldn’t have possibly maintained that sallow glow by overexposing himself to the UV Rays, now could he?

Songs like “The Lazy Sunbathers,” “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning,” and Morrissey’s cover of Patti Smith’s “Redondo Beach” wink at the singer’s grotesque relationship with warm weather and those who enjoy it. The former seems to correlate catching a few rays with mass public ignorance. “The lazy sunbathers,” Moz croons, “Too jaded/To question stagnation/The sun burns through/To the planet’s core/And it isn’t enough/They want more.” Only an Englishman could vilify sun seekers so much.

But it’s the melodramatic “Lifeguard On Duty” from 1990’s Bona Drag that injects a common summer job with existential weight.

“The work you chose has a practical vein/But I read much more into your name/Lifeguard” Morrissey intones.

The only mention of Moz getting wet at this beach, however, is when he walks back through the center of the town, “Drenched in phlegm every time that I come home/Lifeguard save me from life/…Save me from the ails and the ills/And from other things.” Other things…like phlegm.

Another known hater of the heat is Philly’s oddball balladeer David E. Williams, whose menacing “Summer Wasn’t Made For You And Me” really sums life for the sunless.

Stalking a snowy Coney Island in a suit and tie, Williams drones, “Summer wasn’t made for you and me/With its screaming children and the heat’s obscenity/And all the stupid palefaces from town/Ridiculously fashionably brown.”

It’s a real beach party.

In my defense, I’ve gotten much better at summering in the past 15 years. My black clothing and I have come a long way since our first punk rock summer together in 2003, when I refused to wear anything but a patched hoodie and skinny jeans regardless of the season. I went three full years without revealing more than my hands and head to the sun, covering myself like a Victorian aristocrat.

Come freshman year of high school I decided it was finally time to embrace my Spanish heritage and get a tan. This was largely prompted by the fact that my best friend at the time, Daniel, criticized my forced paleness. “You tan naturally. Trying to force yourself pale is the same as all of the pale girls in school going to tanning beds.” Touché. Cocky with the knowledge that I’d never sunburned before, I lay out for hours one day sans sunblock – and subsequently turned a painful shade of cooked crustacean.

Since then I’ve found a safe space between full-body coverage and UV searing, but it’s still a struggle to exist in the summertime. Perhaps denial would be a wise approach to our collective heatstroke; it certainly worked for The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt in the deliciously sullen “I Don’t Believe In The Sun.”

“So I don’t believe in the sun,” Merritt wails. “How could it shine down on everyone/And never shine on me/How could there be/Such cruelty.”

Whether it is the sun, or summer love that left you scorched, Merritt assures us that ignoring our problems will definitely make them go away. Like Morrissey, The Magnetic Fields write recurring fuck-yous to the hi-temp months. In “Summer Lies” we hear a tale of deception.

“All the sweetest things you said and I believed were summer lies/Hanging in the willow trees like the dead were summer lies/I’ll never fall in love again.”

Perhaps summer-lovers are better at summer love, but Merritt and his Magnetic Fields may never know.

The odd thing about both Merritt and Morrissey is that although they are insufferable miserablists, they write such goddamn catchy pop songs that their melodies often outshine their dour lyrics. So bring the boombox to the beach, and from beneath your umbrella and wide-brimmed hat, sing along:

“The only sun I ever knew/Was the beautiful one that was you/Since you went away/It’s night time all day/And it’s usually raining, too.”

I bet no one will even notice.

The greatest betrayal of summer is one we don’t understand until we graduate and join the workforce. Summer becomes a myth; a vestige of childhood when adults paid our rent, fed us, and all we had to worry about was what to do on Saturday night. But now we have what Eddie Cochran (and Robert Gordon, and Joan Jett, and Marc Bolan) referred to as the “Summertime Blues.”

“I’m gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler/About a-workin’ all summer just to try to earn a dollar.”

As kids we used to play in the woods (where there’s plenty of shade), go on long camping excursions, and eat ice cream without an ounce of regret. But here we are: staring at desktops and clicking away, still waiting for the school bell.

But at least we have The Magnetic Fields and Morrissey to crouch in the shade with – what’s that you say? Moz moved to Hollywood, got a tan and abandoned us? He is a Lazy Sunbather now, too?

Well, in the words of David E. Williams:

“Was summer made for them?/Well, yes, maybe/But summer wasn’t made for you and me.”

And let’s not forget, that in addition to sunburns and heatstroke, summer also=SHARKS.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Allegations Against PWR BTTM, ACLU’s Rockstar & More

  • PWR BTTM Cancel Release Show Following Allegations

    Over the past few days, allegations of predatory behavior and sexual abuse were made against Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM, and an anti-semitic photo of Hopkins from 2011 has again resurfaced. While the former was previously addressed by the band, many fans were taken by complete surprise regarding the allegations of violated consent, despite the fact that some of their peers state they were warned about this behavior months ago. The Brooklyn band T-Rextasy is one of them, and has cancelled their July tour with PWR BTTM. Tonight’s Rough Trade release show for Pageant has also been cancelled.

    While the band has not outright confirmed or denied these allegations, they’ve released a statement that includes the offer for victims to send an email to an account that will allegedly only be accessible by an as-yet unidentified mediator. This has sparked further criticism as well as a discussion about accountability; Jes Skolnik does an amazing job of breaking it down via Medium.

  • Meet The ACLU Employee Who Is Also A Rockstar

    Pinky Weitzman is the deputy director of the ACLU, in charge of helping the organization adapt to the modern age. She’s been described as one of its “greatest digital minds.” She’s also a touring member of the Magnetic Fields, and performs with other big-name musicians and in musicals. Instead of taking a break from the ACLU to go on a Magnetic Fields tour, after the election, she decided to take on both roles simultaneously. Read the NBC feature on Weitzman here.

  • Pink Floyd’s Animals Inspires Protest Art

    A Chicago architect wants to relieve the city- at least for a day- of seeing the Trump Tower logo. Jeffrey Roberts is still seeking the city’s approval for his “Flying Pigs on Parade,” which entails tethering several huge, gold, inflatable pigs to a barge to block the letters of Trump’s name. The project was inspired by Pink Floyd’s use of a pig balloon for their 1997 album Animals, and Roger Waters has given Roberts his approval and permission. 

ONLY NOISE: Kill Your Idols

Bob Dylan is finally going to accept his Nobel Prize…with a taped lecture. Ed Sheeran is losing his “nice guy” status and getting called out as a blatant misogynist. Even in death, Chuck Berry can’t escape his reputation as a scat-loving pederast.

We listen to them. We love them. We live for what they do. Hell, I make my wages writing about them. But let’s face it: musicians can be massive assholes.

Entering adulthood, we all experience the humanizing of our parents. The great gods of early childhood, those people who said that yes, you could watch Beavis and Butthead, but, no, you could not watch Pulp Fiction; those adults who taught you “right” from “wrong” and “cooking sherry” from “sipping sherry” – they are just people. As we age, their humanity – with all its foibles – comes into better focus, and we forgive them as they relinquish their post on the pedestal.

So if we’re able to endure the humbling of our own parents, why are we so devastated by the mortal trappings of the famous? Furthermore: why do we put rock stars on a pedestal to begin with?

Because: Fandom. That temporary (or life-long) insanity that made teenagers convulse for four mop-topped Brits, and grown women sexualize teen Bieber.

I was thinking about the word “fan,” which I suspect is connected to the word “fanatic” etymologically. And sure enough, my Googles confirm that “fan” is in fact, “a late 19th century abbreviation of fanatic.”

And what about “fanatic”?

“…The adjective originally described behavior or speech that might result from possession by a god or demon…”

We’re not Beliebers. We’re possessed by demons. In truth, a lot of fan-related content surrounding Bieber does resemble Pentecostal seizures.

But there is a difference between being a fan and a demon-possessed Belieber – right? Perhaps that gap is smaller than we assume.

I’d like to think of myself as someone who is rationally distanced from celebrity gossip, and for the most part I steer clear of tabloid rags – but what do you do when it’s your favorite artist under fire, and for good reason? You feel the pain of betrayal. Like when Mariah lip synched her way through New Year’s Eve.

A couple of months ago the erudite and envelope-pushing Brian Eno released his ambient record Reflections. It was but another stroke of brilliance from a man who’s had a seismic impact on most of the music I love – as both a producer and an innovator. My adoration for Brian Eno (or, as I referred to him in my head alone, Bri-Bri Eno) reached its zenith in 2015, when he delivered the distinguished BBC Music John Peel Lecture. His voice: so soothing. His scalp: so shiny. He even (kind of) made jokes!  I had what you could call a serious brain crush on Bri-Bri Eno. There was a calm wisdom emanating from him at all times; a breed of serenity mirrored in his ambient soundscapes.

And then. Reporter Simon Hattenstone ran an interview with Eno in The Guardian that changed my perception of the artist forever. What began as a genial convo about art turned into sizzling vitriol spouting from the mouth of an unmannered diva. After merely asking a question about the history of Eno’s bizarre, long-winded full name (Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno), Hattenstone was met with outrage from the artist: “God, are we going to do any interesting questions? This is all bollocks. I’m not fucking interested at all in me. I want to talk about ideas. Can we do any of that?”

Rude. From then on the interview oscillated between forced diplomacy and whacky, insolent outbursts from Eno. Hattenstone kept his composure throughout, and rather eloquently defended himself against Brian Meano.

I was in shock. On the one hand, I felt a sense of solidarity with a music journalist just trying to do his job in the presence of a genius. On the other hand I was an enormous fan of Eno’s; a crushed fan who couldn’t believe that one of my favorite artists was, well, a belittling asshole. Of course that appraisal isn’t entirely merited by one messy interview, but my reaction was. The one-sided contract between the fan and the famous had been breached; he’d shown his toothy, human side – and I didn’t want to see it.

This must be a common phenomenon. The fall of icons. That crazy sense of betrayal we feel when someone we have never met does something we can’t stand. But is the Judas effect any more bonkers than the fact that we allowed ourselves to fall in love with a famous stranger to begin with? Probably not.

Any fan of Morrissey knows treachery well. A charming man indeed: his sex appeal, sensitivity, and bookishness (those glasses) made people crazy for decades. I mean, when I was 20, I waltzed into a salon and told them, “I want Morrissey hair.”

But what a dick?! This is the man who screwed his hardworking Smith-mates out of large sums of money, called the Chinese people a “subspecies,” and more recently issued a t-shirt with James Baldwin on the front reading: “I wear black on the outside ‘cause black is how I feel on the inside…” And then there is “Morrissey” written on the bottom left – smack on Baldwin’s shoulder.

No. Just no.

I wondered if I was the only sad bastard who actually felt hurt by rock star fuck-ups. It’s an absurd dilemma – but a real one nonetheless.

A favorite example came from fellow music journalist Allison Hussey, who covered a Sun Kil Moon gig for Indy Week in 2014. Like a good, I don’t know, journalist, Hussey reported the truth, which was sadly that SKM frontman Mark Kozelek was an insufferable prick the entire set. Hussey, of course, used far kinder words in her recap, stating that, “because the show was at the Lincoln Theatre, people were chatty, as all Lincoln Theatre crowds will be. Kozelek was displeased with this, and let the crowd know it by demanding that the ‘fucking hillbillies’ shut the fuck up before he’d strum a single note.”

Instead of ignoring an unflattering review like most artists do, Kozelek then “wrote a song about me where he called me a bitch,” Hussey recounts. “It was…an interesting roller coaster.”

Even my dad had a tale of rock star boorishness, though his was not of a beloved musician, per se. My dad has spent most of his life working in the music industry, whether as a record store owner, a musician, or a pro audio salesman. During the latter vocation, he crossed paths with a certain Guns N’ Roses guitarist.

“Slash was a total egotistic d-bag,” he relayed. “Spent an entire afternoon around him at a music show in Ventura, California around ’88 or ’89. He pranced around and acted like he was King, and everyone else were serfs.”

Ok, so Slash being a douchebag isn’t exactly breaking news, but you always hope that in the face of all odds, he might deflect his own stereotype.

In all of my crowdsourcing for quotes about artist meet-and-greets gone wrong, there were tales of Joe Jackson being “cheap and pompous” to a server, a comment about Puddle of Mudd’s Wesley Scantlin being a “jerk,” (shocker) and damnations of Madonna. But amongst the slew of dirt, one friend piped up to say that, “all the [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][musicians] I’ve met were very nice, especially Ric Ocasek.”

So I guess there’s hope, after all.


ONLY NOISE: Welcome to the Workless Week

Rihanna is doing everything I am not.

“Work, work, work, work, work, work/You see me I be work, work, work, work, work, work,” she barks through the café sound system – as if she knows.

Another sunny day in the neighborhood. It is loping along at a drowsy pace. Parks are barren – full of empty benches. There is no line at the post office, and my favorite corner in the local coffee shop is dutifully awaiting me. I’m not dreaming. I’m not lucky. I am unemployed. And it’s just a weekday.

As luck would have it, I’ve been laid off three times in the past three years. Downsizing, outsourcing, budget cuts, project fulfillment – I’ve seen it all, and yet each time it hits me like an uppercut…like getting dumped when you thought everything was going awesome. And everything was going awesome…until it wasn’t anymore.

Another song comes on: Elvis Costello’s embittered “Welcome To The Working Week” off 1977’s My Aim Is True. I envision Costello back in the early ‘70s, working as a data entry clerk for Elizabeth Arden and hating every minute of it. “Welcome to the working week,” he sneers. “Oh, I know it don’t thrill you, I hope it don’t kill you/Welcome to the working week/You gotta do it till you’re through it, so you better get to it.” The irony of course being that it is the workless week(s) I have to get through now.

But this time ‘round I am not alone. It wasn’t long ago when I told my friend M that everything was “going to be ok!” M had recently been laid off from her job of five years, and I assured her that she needn’t self-flagellate for collecting unemployment.

“The idea that going through a period of unemployment is being lazy or counterproductive to society is bullshit,” I argued. “That’s just a false, capitalistic construct that a lot of developed countries don’t abide by. Look at Sweden! They get artist grants on the regular! Paternity leave! No one calls the Swedish lazy!” I consoled M with fervor, hoping to empower my hardworking pal who’d fallen on hard times. “You’re going to LOVE unemployment! Hell, I wish I had been on it longer!”

Somewhere in the distance, Riri sang and wagged a finger, “When you a gon’ learn, learn, learn, learn, learn, learn”? Before I could answer, I was plunged into joblessness. Again. I turned to find that ardent part of myself, the one that I’d dispatched to boost M’s confidence. She was nowhere to be found.

On Monday, in broad daylight, M and I sat on her couch; updating resumes, drafting emails, and calling the New York State Department of Unemployment Services, which has constructed a densely layered multiverse of automated menu options, dead-end key commands, and spontaneous call terminations. Dante himself could not have imagined this many circles of hell. The Specials’ bristling cover of “Maggie’s Farm” bleated from M’s tablet. I repeatedly punched zero in the hopes of being delivered to a real-time human, but was escorted back to the beginning of the menu options instead.

Veterans of creative industries get it. Writers, actors, magicians, poets, clowns, and yes, musicians; it’s a hard life making a living. Like Rihanna and Elvis Costello, Dolly Parton knew all about werk when she wrote “9 to 5,” singing the sour truth in that sweet, sweet voice: “Workin’ 9 to 5, whoa what a way to make a livin’/Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’/They just use your mind and they never give you credit/It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.”

In this time of uncertainty, I tell myself that it’s important to have historical perspective. It’s crucial to remember that bitching about work (or lack thereof), is as human as bipedalism, and has likely occurred since the dawn of occupation. While Rihanna today sings, “You see me do me dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt,” a 12th century blacksmith has surely larked, “You see me do me smelt, smelt, smelt, smelt, smelt, smelt,” and so on and so forth. Throughout history, where there has been work, there has been animosity; where there has been unemployment, there has been languor.

Hating your job is a time-honored tradition. So too is fearing eternal joblessness, and, as Bill Callahan sang in the ‘90s, longing “to be of use.” But why are we reduced to this? Why is our identity plastered slapdash around a core of employment? They don’t live like this is in Italy, right?

Perhaps philosopher Henri Lefebvre explained it best in his 1968 page-turner, The Sociology of Marx: “– man loses himself in his works. He loses his way among the products of his own effort, which turn against him and weight him down, become a burden.” Or, as Morrissey sang, “Frankly, Mr. Shankly, this position I’ve held/It pays my way, and it corrodes my soul/I want to leave, you will not miss me/I want to go down in musical history.”

I think about how Morrissey once worked as a hospital porter, and, perhaps annoyed that everyone around him was more miserable than he, quit and went on the dole. The Smiths frontman then used the bulk of his unemployment benefits to buy concert tickets. Morrissey sings about jobs more than most pop stars, and has certainly had them, making his claim in 1984’s “You’ve Got Everything Now” that he’s “Never had a job/Because I’ve never wanted one,” only half true.

Jeff Buckley was a Hotel Receptionist. Alanis Morissette was an Envelope Stuffer. Looking through a list of “51 Jobs Musicians Had Before They Were Famous” makes me feel better for some reason. Ian Curtis worked as a Welfare Officer. Chuck Berry (RIP), a Beautician. Rod Stewart dug graves. Henry Rollins managed a Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop in DC.

I wonder if, while scooping equal portions of Rocky Road and Butter Pecan into a waffle cone, Henry Rollins was thinking of a passage from The Communist Manifesto: “…labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce…” “Much like this sugary, frozen treat,” mumbled the pre-Black Flag muscle man. While dipping the high-piled scoops into a vat of rainbow sprinkles, Häagen-Dazs Rollins must have pondered Marx and Engels further, noting that, “…the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine…”

But let’s face it, ice cream Henry – we’re all appendages of the machine with or without those pesky day jobs – no matter how you scoop, sprinkle, or dip it. If you look to The Jam’s lay-off-themed “Smithers-Jones,” you’ll hear the tale of an obedient, white-collar worker who gets the axe. The suit-wearing title character arrives at his long-term office job one Monday only to be told, “There’s no longer a position for you/Sorry Smithers-Jones.”

And then there’s good ‘ol Morrissey again, who famously sang, “I was looking for a job, and then I found a job/And heaven knows I’m miserable now.”

Oh, c’mon Moz, it ain’t alllll that bad. When talking to my sister about my recent loafer status, she assures me that things could be much worse. At least I don’t have to dig graves like Rod Stewart. At least I don’t have to work in a slaughterhouse like Ozzy Ozborne. I have friends and family who love me, an awesome part-time writing gig, and, unlike my sister’s new puppy, Darwin: at least I don’t have eczema on my butthole.

So I got that going for me, which is nice.

ONLY NOISE: Cover to Cover


“What a drug this little book is; to imbibe it is to find oneself presuming his process.” In her latest memoir M Train, Patti Smith speaks of W.G. Sebald’s After Nature with bibliophilic hunger. She is seeking inspiration and therefore turns to a favorite work. Smith continues:

“I read and feel the same compulsion; the desire to possess what he has written, which can only be subdued by writing something myself. It is not mere envy but a delusional quickening in the blood.”

As I read her book with a similar hunger, I realize that I’ve felt this way before, in the precise way she has described it – when I listen to the music I love. “The desire to possess” what has been written, played, and sung. This desire is so strong that it ventures upon wish fulfillment; I often feel as though I am taking communion with the music…eating it, so to speak. For a split second, I near convince myself that I have written it. That it is mine.

I often wonder if this is a personal quirk (a hallucination) or if others experience the same phenomenon. I wonder if it is perhaps the subconscious impetus to cover songs, even. What if instead of mere flattery, or tribute, possession also informed Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” or Jimi Hendrix’s take on “All Along the Watchtower?” They certainly made both songs their own. I do not mean a jealous possession, necessarily, but an attempt to be “one with” the song, at the risk of sounding faux-metaphysical.

Cover songs as a genre get a bad rep, it seems. Covers = karaoke, or worse, Covers = Cover Bands. It was after all a throng of home-recorded cover songs that launched Justin Bieber’s career. But cover songs lead a double life. In their pop/rock identity, it is often considered a lowbrow, unoriginal form – sometimes even an attempt at latching onto the search engine optimization of the artists being covered. But in a cover song’s blues/folk/country life it goes by another name: a traditional. Throughout countless genres that could be filed under the umbrella of “folk” or “roots” music, artists recorded their own versions of songs passed down by performers before them.

Much like the poems and fables of oral history, it was common for the original authors of traditional songs to remain unknown. Take for instance the trad number “Goodnight, Irene,” which was first recorded by Lead Belly in 1933, and by many others thereafter. But the original songwriter has been obscured from music history. There are allusions to the song dating back to 1892, but no specifics on who penned the version Lead Belly recorded.

Lead Belly claimed to have learned the song from his uncles in 1908, who presumably heard it elsewhere. “Goodnight, Irene” was subsequently covered by The Weavers (1950), Frank Sinatra (1950, one month after The Weavers’ version), Ernest Tubb & Red Foley (1950 again), Jimmy Reed (1962) and Tom Waits (2006) to name but a few.

The reason so many artists (I only listed a couple) covered “Goodnight, Irene” in 1950 was because that was the way of the music biz back then. If someone had a hit record – like The Weavers, who went to #1 on the Billboard Best Seller chart – it was in the best interest of other musicians to cash in on the trend while it was hot by recording their version of the single. Not as common today of course, but in a time when session musicians were rarely credited and hits were penned by paid teams instead of performers, it made sense.

The history of traditional folk songs or “standards” is a fascinating one because it is like a musical game of telephone. The songs’ arrangement and lyrics change with the times, the performer, and the context. And that same model of change can be applied to both the artist’s motive for covering certain music, and the listener’s reaction to it.

For years I quickly dismissed cover songs, finding them boring at best and unbearable at worst. But in my recent quest to become more open-minded, I have revisited many covers…and become a bit obsessed in the process. The first cover song to move me was The Slits’ version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” which in itself is a pop traditional as it has been covered by everyone from Marvin Gaye, to Creedence Clearwater Revival, to The Miracles. Gaye’s version is the most widely recognized, however, making The Slits’ rendition all the more fascinating. Their 1979 stab at the Motown classic was what taught me that a cover song could be more than just a karaoke version of something. It can become a completely new medium of expression when the artist tears the original apart and stitches the pieces into a new form. The Slits did this so effectively, to the point that theirs and Gaye’s versions are incomparable.

The Stranglers achieved a similar result by reconfiguring the Dionne Warwick classic “Walk On By” in 1978, morphing the lounge-y original into a six-minute swirl of organ-infused punk. Another master of pop modification was the one-and-only Nina Simone, who somehow took the already perfect “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen and managed to make it…perfecter. I remember a friend playing this cut for me three and a half years ago, and I haven’t gone so much as a week without putting it on since. Nina’s phrasing can make Dylan’s seem predictable, and she dances through Cohen’s poetry in a way that astonishes me to this day, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. I feel that her version is, dare I say, better than the original, though I love both dearly.

But of course, not all covers exist for the purpose of possession. Sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one: that a cover is an opportunity to pay tribute, not ironically, but with reverence. Of course, even artists performing the best reverent covers make the songs their own. Take Smog’s version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Beautiful Child,” which is such a gorgeous recording that I was heartbroken to learn it was a cover, and disappointed upon hearing the original. Ditto Bill Callahan’s more recent take on Kath Bloom’s “The Breeze/My Baby Cries.” Bloom’s take isn’t short on oddball, winsome charm, but Callahan brings a barge full of sorrow, which always wins in my book.

In similar form, Robert Wyatt somehow out-Costello’d Elvis Costello when he covered “Shipbuilding” in 1982, which reaches another dimension of despair with Wyatt’s wavering vocal performance. Another favorite is Morrissey’s interpretation of “Redondo Beach,” an oddly bouncy rendition by the King of Sad.

Though I once turned my nose up at cover songs, I seem to fanatically collect them now. I often dream up cover song commissions that will likely never come to fruition: Cat Power singing Bob Dylan’s “Most of the Time” or King Krule doing “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes. I’d pay them to do it myself if I could damn well afford to. Until then, let the covers of others stoke your desire to possess.