riley rock report

Austin Butler as Elvis

Too Much To Dream

Brett Morgen extends Bowie’s dislocation by
spinning out his lack of context

IN A GLUT of music documentaries where overlong counts as serious and talking heads sling clichés, we should be glad about Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream. It lets David Bowie do all the narrating, delivers riveting concert footage, and boasts a detailed audio design by Bowie’s longtime collaborator Tony Visconti. Like I Walk the Line, or Almost Famous, you hate to complain about movie sprawl when they nail the music, but at 2hrs 15mins this film will lose viewers simply because of its length. I looked at my watch after two hours, and I liked it…

Austin Butler as Elvis

Alternate Realities

Lars Vogt plays Leos Janacek, Copper Magazine, issue 146, September 21, 2021 

WITH HIS TART rhythms and uneasy tonality, Leoš Janáček, a late Romantic Czech composer and early innovator in folk musicology, circles his own little cul-de-sac. Among the first to use Edison’s “portable” phonograph to compile Moravian and Slavic folk songs, few understand how his modal experiments rival Claude Debussy as tonal innovator, and his jittery rhythmic sense has just enough rarefied dander to limit his reach; both Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana overshadow Janáček as nationalist composers…

Austin Butler as Elvis

Reverse Cool

Buddy Holly and  John Lennon: Horn-Rimmed Hip
from Perfect Sound Forever, 2006

LONG BEFORE “POST-MODERN” became pure jargon, Buddy Holly put quotes around his “normalcy” to disarm rock machismo. Holly, the “King of the Sixth Grade,” hiccuped his hormones out loud, flipping everybody’s high school jitters into metaphor. His futuristic Stratocaster guitar gave his horn-rimmed glasses sudden but certain panache, and in a style crowded with “hipsters,” “Marlon Brando with a guitar” as Jackie Gleason dismissed Elvis Presley, Holly pushed “normal” to extremes. On his records, everyday stuff turned radical. In musical terms, squeezing the eccentric from the banal meant deconstructing all the elements of song as recording, from verse-refrain-bridge constructions to bending analog tape to do your song’s will. This persona, the ordinary as cosmic, consumes the Complete Buddy Holly, last year’s underground epic, a 10-CD remaster of everything Holly touched. This grand, sprawling patchwork weaves early 1953 appearances on KDAV with Jack Neal as “Buddy and Jack” with radio spots, alternate takes, even phone messages to reluctant executives. His chart action wedges a creative infinity into two years, from 1957 up to his plane crash on February 3, 1959…

Austin Butler as Elvis

Unlike a Tramp

Madonna Slings 50 Bombers
from Madonna: Illustrated, by Tim Riley. Hyperion, 1992.

MADONNA IS THE POP STAR everybody loves to hate. She can’t sing, she can’t dance, she can’t act—she personifies the worst of what the 1980s did to pop culture. The cornier her misfortunes, the easier she is to knock: a nude-photo scandal, a failed celebrity marriage to a movie star, laughable performances—in a series of embarrassingly bad movies.
To her critics, Madonna’s talent doesn’t approach the magnitude of the fame she’s fashioned for herself. She may be a genius at self-promotion, they contend, but she has nothing important to say, and her fans are an international horde of tin-eared sheep. If the masses find her trampy image entertaining, then pop deserves nothing better. But Madonna’s phenomenal success can’t be explained simply by putting her down…

Austin Butler as Elvis

Childlike Wisdom

Soviet Pianist Maria Yudina Converses With Greatness
The Los Angeles Review of Books, August 4, 2022

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH LIKED to tell a story about the legendary pianist Maria Yudina and her riveting 1953 radio broadcast of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488. Apparently, the music wafted into Joseph Stalin’s quarters, and, smitten, he requested a tape of her performance be pressed onto shellac and delivered to him by morning. He never woke up to hear it, though, since he suffered his fatal heart attack later that night. The story — too good for reality, perfect as myth — has lingered as a testament to Yudina’s artistry; Armando Iannucci even opens his buckled farce The Death of Stalin (2017) with a dramatization of the scene. In Playing with Fire: The Story of Maria Yudina, Pianist in Stalin’s Russia, Elizabeth Wilson closes the door on the tale as history in her first appendix.

What’s beyond mythic is how Yudina plays Mozart’s disconsolate slow movement. This adagio (in F-sharp minor), made more poignant by the enchantments of its major-mode bookends, has a delicate instability that stays with you, and Yudina’s relatively slow tempo doesn’t lag so much as echo some ancient internal grief. Her pianism has an uncanny transparency, as though her fingers channel some higher realm of expression…

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Live chats with Tim Riley

On January 2, Producing the Beatles podcast host and author Jason Kruppa (All Things Must Pass: Harrison, Clapton, and Other Assorted Love Songs) spoke about  technical matters, where Jackson "fudges" some of his audio syncs up with film, and some promising new developments for scholarship. He also mentioned the Steve Hoffman audio forum.

Earlier episodes cover why Peter Jackson's Get Back doesn't work as a "documentary," and where it opens up new threads of scholarship. Tensions emerge between seen and unseen, sloppy rehearsals and masterful performance. More in links below...

Dec 12, 2021: Riley on Springsteen's No Nukes (13m, mp3)

Dec 5, 2021: more Riley on career context (45m, mp3)

Nov 28, 2021: Tim Riley on Get Back (65m, mp3)

Watch video clips here. More resources on the Beatles Bonus Round page.