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Jan32022

Greg Tate (1957-2021)

I have been thinking about the death of writer/curator/force of nature Greg Tate this entire month and my sadness has not left me. I did not know the man like so many writers I admire did. Instead I head about his books and essays about hip-hop, art and black culture from this generation of writers who taught me. Maybe that makes Mr. Tate, legacy-wise. like a great-uncle to the work I do. Or try to do.

Really though, what he created was too big, too magical and other-wordly for to pin it on my own chest. Reading him, listening to him in print or on television or radio was like discovering other planets, being thrown into the galaxies and knowing, instead of plummeting you would fly. 

Knowing we have read the last of his work is feeling like the sun has dropped out of the sky. 

Look at some of the titles of his obituaries…

That first one concluded thusly (bravo to its author, Jon Caramanica)

“By that point, Tate’s sui generis brilliance was widely acknowledged in our circles, and still barely touched by others. Showcasing his critical pirouetting was meant to serve as a beacon, and also a simple acknowledgment of the way he affected every writer I cared about and learned from — we’re all Tate’s children. I still buy “Flyboy” every time I see it in a bookstore. I never want to be too far away from it, lest I forget how vast the cosmos is.”


By “Flyboy”, Mr. Caramanica is referring to Flyboy in the Buttermilk, Tate’s first collection of essays published in 1992. The writer Jeff Chang and artist Tim’m West steered me to it during my early years in the Bay Area. If reading about music and art and the people who make it is act of redemption for you, Flyboy is like a volume of the Hebrew Bible.

I still have a few notes I scribbled down when I first read it all those years ago…

Reading “Flyboy”you realize you are in the presence of a genius, a voice reaching down from the cosmos unlike any you have ever heard. And so you forgive it when its once-in-a-while too twisted or loud or muffled or sharp. Because when it is quiet and you  are too, you are better for having heard it, better for your listening and it makes you want to be better as well.

Greg Tate died a week before Bell Hooks and two weeks before Joan Didion, writers he admired, knew and in their lifetimes, get many more trophies and honorary degrees than he did.  I’ve been distributing used copies of Flyboy to many wise men and women I know, who missed the word on Mr. Tate, the first time around. It’s a small gesture for an artist who knew and shared and gave so much. 

My friend and fellow writer Annie Zaleski once sat on a panel with Mr Tate and told me, shortly after his death, that the man, a generation’s worth of admirers did not scream out his gifts, did not ask you to praise them and led with a generosity of spirit that split through his work like light through glass. We weren’t simply gifted his imagination. His imagination showed us what we could be, how much brighter and smarter and far out. Apparently, he mentored dozens of young journalists too. 

Goodbye Mr. Tate. I’m late to a dream you opened right on time. 

Some of my favorite Greg Tate pieces are, in no real order

Jun212020

In Praise of “Red” Cities and Purple America: Tulsa, OK

Tulsa Skyline

Dear blue state friends,

Allow me to tell you something about Tulsa, particularly if you have never visited.

Tulsa is friggin awesome.

Birthplace of SE Hinton, John Hope Frankin, Bill Hader and Current Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. The cultural capital of the state. Home to the Bob Dylan archive and the Philbrook Museum of Art. Cain’s Ballroom (i.e. Johnny Cash’s favorite venue outside of Nashville) and the BOK Tower (i.e. the building Minoru Yamasaki honed his skyscraper chops on right before sketching the World Trade Center). A blue dot in a sea of red.

Yeah, it’s got some silly shit like Oral Roberts University. And its progressive power is usually blotted out by blood red Oaklahoma City in electoral politics. But before we go giving all the credit to teenagers on Tik Tok for the sorry-ass turnout at this weekend’s Trump Rally, consider this: Tulsa was a boneheaded, tone-deaf place to hold that rally anyway.

Tulsa is NOT the Trumpy base. Tulsa is filled with open-minded, creative, diverse, forward thinking people like my dear friend Jeff Martin, owner of Magic City Books downtown, who has brought basically every interesting cultural figure you can think of to Tulsa, who sold and gave away a truckload of books by Black authors this weekend, who has been giving out gave out water and supplies to protestors since protesting began this month.

Jeff is a singular presence and a miracle worker. He is far from the only person doing amazing progressive cultural work and organizing in Tulsa.

Jeff brought me to Tulsa a few years ago while I was on book tour. It was one of the highlights of almost a year on the road, a town filled with friendly interesting people, great food, beautiful sites and plenty to do. I would recommend anyone visit as soon as it is safe to do so. And see Tulsa as a reminder that we blue state dwellers all too often think the red-leaning parts of America are an endless sea of small minded bigots.

We are wrong.

Tulsa is one of my favorite cities in America. It’s purple America. And purple America are our allies and friends in this fight too.

Mar142020

Listening to All of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: Hemispheres

Hemispheres -- RUSH

I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on Jan 7th at age 67. Next up…

Album Name: Hemispheres

Released: October 1978

Folks, I’m afraid this one’s going to be quite brief as Rush’s sixth studio album “Hemispheres” does nothing for me. The last of their golden prog rock period is the proggiest of them all, featuring on one site a mini rock-opera and on the the other a twelve-minute instrumental. The musicianship here beats all but leaves me cold as a dead fish: Virtuosity will never move me like songcraft. So fine, if you love this record, keep on doing you, but I’m going to take a quick pass and scuttle right on the next one.

Mar32020

Listening to all of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: A Farewell to Kings

 

"A Farewell to Kings" -- RUSH

I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, who died on Jan 7th at age 67. Next up…

Album Name: A Farewell to Kings

Released: September 1977

Rush’s fifth studio album is the second of their golden prog-rock period where side-length sci-fi tales of ridiculousness were coin of the realm. Many vintage RUSH fans love this stuff but it is not for me. Therefore, it will surprise no one that Mr. Peart’s contributions I zero in on here and continue to appreciate most all these years later, are on shorter, more approachable material.

Best Drums: “A Farewell to Kings”

Often overlooked, I think, due to its sonic similarity to “2112,” the band’s preceding album, what begins as a woodsy British folk ballad soars to the heights of a classical opera, mostly thanks to a wash of keyboards. But what would sound metallic and thin is made magisterial by the sober throb of Neil Peart’s drums. It’s foundational rhythm at its quiet best.

Best lyrics: “Closer to the Heart”

Possibly Peart’s finest composition, an open-chested plea for tolerance, peace and a new way of living from a famously shy and quiet man.

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the Heart
Closer to the Heart

The Blacksmith and the Artist
Reflect it in their art
They forge their creativity
Closer to the Heart
Yea, Closer to the Heart

Philosophers and Plowmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the Heart
Closer to the Heart

 

Feb62020

Listening to all of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: 2112

"2112" -- Rush

So I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on Jan 7th at age 67.

Next Up:

Album Name: 2112

Released: April 1976

Rush’s forth studio album 2112 is a gloriously silly space opera that somehow manages to justify its excesses. Unlike its predecessor Caress of Steel its 973 minute opening takes us briskly into the rest of the album AND stands on its own instead of collapsing in on its own weight. Even though it’s hard to look at in plainly in retrospect (its the band’s breakthrough record and arguably them at their best. It’s human nature to muddle the two).

For the record, it is not my favorite incarnation of Rush and not why I signed on 35 years ago. I was barely in a full set of clothes in 1976 and my earliest memories of the band are when they’d left this stuff far behind. Still, I admire their nerve here as a young band and how well these epic pieces hold up live if not in fashion but in repeat performance.

Best drumming: That overture is mostly keyboard -driven but the drums sure buttress it nicely

Best lyrics:

Though it is simply about drug culture, “A Passage to Bangkok” paints a coked-out tableau with great wit and punnery.

“Our first stop is in Bogota
To check Colombian fields
The natives smile and pass along
A sample of their yield
Sweet Jamaican pipe dreams
Golden Acapulco nights
Then Morocco, and the East
Fly by morning light

 

Jan292020

Listening to all of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: Fly By Night

Rush: Fly By Night

I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on January 7th at the age of 67. First up…

Album name: Fly By Night

Release Date: Feb 15, 1975

The Story: The band’s second studio album but first with Neil Peart is commonly regarded as the first album of what the band would be in the first stages of their career–hard rock, bluesy guitaring mixed with fantastical, science fiction themes and courageous (or silly) lengthy pro-rock excursions. Personally, I care for those less than RUSH acing their fundamentals: Superior musicianship and lyrics that can be indulgent and a bit juvenile at times but always contain brilliant turns of phrase and are never dull.

The title track Peart wrote about his failed 18 months living abroad, trying to crack into the English music scene. “Beneath, Between and Behind” was the first set of lyrics he ever wrote for the band

My favorite track:

“Fly By Night”

https://youtu.be/nEVDZl5UvN4

Favorite Drumming:

“Anthem” (accepting that drum solos do very little for me. I prefer drumming as a component of the song)

https://youtu.be/3oEQuzHp5I0

Favorite Lyric:

“Moon rise, thoughtful eyes
Staring back at me from the window beside
No fright, or hindsight
Leaving behind that empty feeling inside”

— Fly By Night

Jan292020

Listening to all of Rush’s Albums to honor Neil Peart: Caress of Steel

 

So I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on Jan 7th at age 67.

Album Name: Caress of Steel

Released: September 1975

Rush’s third studio album was considered a bomb, a claim not without merit: The first side contains some of their finest songwriting in a pair of tracks — “Bastille Day “ and “Lakeside Park”— that manage to be as grand and epic as their 12 minute outer space operas while feeling human and made of flesh rather than make of titanium and being a song you appreciate the audacity of rather than actually, eh listen to.

A bit of context here: The typical narrative of Rush is these 12 minute three movement dramas about based on JRR Tolkein and Ayn Rand are them at their best. Then around “Tom Sawyer” (1980, eight albums into their career) they got a taste of having a 3 minute hit song and never went back. In effect they “sold out” and turned their back on the nerds who supported them from the jump.

My relationship with them is just the opposite. I’ve no need for 12 minutes of something called “Cygnus Book II” because I discovered the band in their 3 minute song years of the 1980s and that’s what I fell in love with so that works for me.

Here then, side one of Caress of Steel is what they would become in another 5 years. Side two is where they were at the moment. It’s an uneasy coexistence and the album is so bottom heavy with three movement wankarama dramas that the (better) first side feels tacked on.

Ah well. I never owned this record and heard all I needed from it when I bought the Rush: Chronicles greatest compilation on something called a “CD” once upon a time. Nothing lost.

Best drumming: That opening from Bastille Day is killer:

https://youtu.be/mT1gmKUoqbY

Best lyrics:

“Midway hawkers calling “Try your luck with me”
Merry-go-round wheezing the same old melody
A thousand ten cent wonders who could ask for more
A pocketful of silver, the key to heaven’s door”

— Lakeside Park

https://youtu.be/tgeg-xadx9s

A surprisingly sweet track about an amusement park Neil Peart worked at as a teenager in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. I am always pleased when a Rush song is about people and this world we share together.

Jan202020

Daily Links Special for Dr. Martin Luther King Day

 

MLK March on Washington Speech

— NPR: ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech, In Its Entirety https://t.co/kBC12Wlln0

— New Yorker: From 1965: Renata Adler reports on Martin Luther King, Jr., and the historic march from Selma to Montgomery. https://t.co/KevfNjsnou

— Paste Magazine: Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day With Musical Tributes From Patti Labelle, Joan Baez & many more. https://t.co/YBCTnHi8cH

“I fear I may have integrated my people into a burning house” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

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