James Brown’s public acclaim as a musical visionary was often counterpointed by the private disdain of many of the trained musicians in his bands, who scorned his musical illiteracy.
An unorthodox valorization of Brown’s approach to composition is suggested by Deleuze’s account, in Différence et répétition, of the idiot as the pedant’s polar opposite. As a musical idiot, Brown’s naive immunity to conceptual rules or institutionally dominant forms of thinking—his capacity, in other words, for thought without presupposition—enabled modes of conceptual originality that evaded the musically trained.
This according to “James Brown: The illogic of innovation” by John Scannell (New formations: A journal of culture/theory/politics 66 [spring 2009] pp. 118–133). Today would have been Brown’s 80th birthday! Below, the Godfather of Soul defies logic in his heyday.
“I was about six when I started smoking cedar bark and grapevine, and rolling up Bull Durham” writes Willie Nelson. “I was trading a dozen eggs for a pack of Camels.”
“Then I ran into beer and whiskey, pills, and then pot. By then I was twenty-five years old and my lungs were killing me….So then I said to myself, “Hey, you’re not getting high on cigarettes, and they killed half your family….”
“So I started quitting everything. No more cigarettes at all. I started running again and getting back in shape.”
“I took my cigarettes and threw them away. I rolled up twenty joints and put them in the cigarette package, and every time I wanted a cigarette, I smoked a hit or two off a joint instead. One joint would last all day and it worked for me.” (Roll me up and smoke me when I die: Musings from the road [New York: HarperCollins, 2012] p. 121).
Today is Nelson’s 80th birthday! Below, the book’s namesake.
In early 1997 the Australian label Origin Records released Telek, a collaboration between the popular Tolai vocalist George Mamua Telek and the Australian keyboard player and producer David Bridie that was packaged as a debut recording for Telek, even though he was already well known in his native Papua New Guinea.
A repackaged and resequenced version released by Origin later that year and titled Go long we long lon bush won critical acclaim, prompting yet another repackaged and resequenced release shortly thereafter.
These collaborations exemplify a positive and productive outcome of what Steven Feld has termed a schismogenetic relationship between the West and the non-West, indicating that such syncretic projects need not collapse difference, and may even produce a complementary development of existing local characteristics.
This according to “Questions of origin: George Telek and David Birdie’s collaborative recordings” by Denis Crowdy and Philip Hayward (Kulele: Occasional papers on Pacific music and dance III  pp. 85–105). Below, a Telek–Bridie collaboration.
Related article: A lullaby for world music
The Hindi film song Thoda resham lagta hai (It takes a little silk), written by Bappi Lahiri for the 1981 film Jyoti, was long forgotten before it was rediscovered in 2002 by the American producer DJ Quik.
Based around an unauthorized 35-second sample of the recording, the Truth Hurts song Addictive prompted Lahiri to sue Dr. Dre (the executive producer of the song), Aftermath Records, and Universal Music (Aftermath’s parent company and distributor) for $500 million.
Beyond Lahiri’s claims of cultural imperialism, obscenity, and outright theft, DJ Quik’s rearrangement of the song was, in turn, adopted by music producers, including Lahiri himself, in a wide variety of international genres, including Indian, American, and Jamaican contexts. Yet even as this well-traveled tune evokes different historical and local meanings, it evokes an eroticized Other in each context, including its original one.
This according to “It takes a little lawsuit: The flowering garden of Bollywood exoticism in the age of its technological reproducibility” by Wayne Marshall and Jayson Beaster-Jones (South Asian popular culture X/3 [October 2012] pp. 249–260). Above, a screen shot from Truth Hurt’s Addictive video, which is not available for linking; below, the song in its original context. (Yes, that’s the voice of the great Lata Mangeshkar!)
After Queen’s 1985 tour of Spain, the group’s frontman Freddie Mercury amazed his fans by declaring on Spanish television that the Spaniard he most longed to meet was Montserrat Caballé.
Mercury hoped to collaborate with the legendary diva, and in March 1987 he finally arranged a meeting in the Garden Room of the Ritz Hotel in Barcelona with a grand piano, state-of-the art recording and playback equipment, and a sumptuous buffet. She later described the scene:
“We spent the whole time listening to music, eating, and improvising…Barcelona as such did not exist at that time—it was only a musical sketch of just a few bars that Freddie sang. But I liked it and he promised to develop it for me to celebrate the Olympic success.” (Barcelona had just been selected for the 1992 Summer Olympics.)
Mercury worked quickly on the song, and Caballé’s recital in London later that month dovetailed with a recording session at his home. Working until 6:00 in the morning, they produced what effectively became Barcelona’s unofficial Olympic anthem.
This according to Montserrat Caballé: “Casta diva” by Stephen Taylor and Robert Pullen (London: Gollancz, 1995, pp. 302–05).
Caballé is 80 years old today! Below, the official video of Barcelona.
The term world music arose among academics in the 1960s as a way to promote interest in the study of diverse musics. By the 1980s, world music was a marketing category whose success was propelled by the interest and involvement of popular music stars; by the 1990s, it had become a booming commercial enterprise on its own. Critical and scholarly responses to this development involve two types of narrative: the anxious and the celebratory.
Creative responses have included examples like the inclusion of Hugo Zemp’s field recording of the song Rorogwela, available on the CD Solomon Islands: Fateleka and Baegu Music from Malaita (UNESCO/Audivis, 1990), as Sweet lullaby on the worldbeat CD Deep forest (Sony Music, 1992), where it was given drum machine and synthesizer accompaniment and backing vocals.
The marketing of tropes like green enviroprimitivism and spiritual new age avant-garde romanticism has created a situation where a “sweet lullaby” is a fitting metaphor for the soothing multicultural aura surrounding the industrialized globalization of music.
This according to “A sweet lullaby for world music” by Steven Feld (Public culture XII/1  pp. 145–171). Below, the official Sweet lullaby music video. Above, the 30th annual World of Music, Arts, and Dance Festival (WOMAD), which drew thousands of world music fans to Charlton Park in 2012.
Related article: Telek, Bridie, and schismogenesis
The storyteller speaks: Rare & different fictions of the Grateful Dead (Bellingham: Kearney Street Books, 2010) is a Grateful Dead-inspired collection of literary short stories. Genres represented include horror, romance, time-travel, family saga, zombie, western, science fiction, and mystery noir.
Below, Jerry Garcia discusses storytelling in Terrapin station.
Related article: Dead studies
Lawrence Welk’s hour-long world as presented on The Lawrence Welk show—with its smiling singers, brightly colored sets, color-coordinated male and female outfits, and flawless band performances—were stress-free and wholly detached from the outside world.
His was a sealed-off, accident-free utopia soundtracked by an endless supply of what the maestro called “champagne music”. Once a week, Welk presented viewers with one of the most otherworldly—and most underappreciated—psychedelic chiffon musical paradises ever seen on television.
This according to “The maestro from another planet: In praise of Lawrence Welk’s otherwordly chiffon paradise” by Ken Parille (The believer XII/6 [July-August 2009; online only]).
Today is Welk’s 110th birthday! Below, the maestro celebrates on the dance floor.
Today we honor both George Harrison’s birthday and National Cancer Awareness Month.
In 1997 Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer; it did not appear to be a large tumor, and it seemed harmless. Chemotherapy and radiation showed effective results.
But in 2000, while he was working on a reissue of All things must pass, he underwent treatment for another cancerous growth in the lung, which had migrated from his primary lesion of the throat. Later he was found to have an inoperable brain tumor as well.
Harrison underwent a new type of cancer treatment in a Swiss clinic, but he finally succumbed to his disease on November 29, 2001. If the original cancer had been screened and diagnosed in time, we might be celebrating his 70th birthday today.
This according to “George Harrison” by Anirudha Agnihotry, an article posted on the blog Oral cancer awareness drive (Oral Cancer Organization, 2013). Many thanks to Dr. Agnihotry for guest-writing this post!
Above, Ravi Shankar imparts the rudiments of sitār playing. Below, Harrison with a few friends.
Jonathan Demme included excerpts from over 40 recorded songs in the soundtrack for his film Something wild. As a late–20th-century update of screwball comedies, traits common to the genre—shifts in characters’ identities, the breaking down of social barriers—are supported and commented on musically.
This according to “Something new: Music as re-vision in Jonathan Demme’s Something wild” by Jeff Evans (Popular music and society XIX/3 [fall 1995] pp. 1-17). Above and below, The Feelies shift the identity of David Bowie’s Fame in Demme’s film.