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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

Copper Magazine, September 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. Opera buffs cherish The Cunning Little Vixen as a staple of the standard repertoire, but what do they know? The novelist Milan Kundera cherished Janáček’s two expansive string quartets, which boast scads of recordings from top ensembles. But pianists steer around much of Janáček’s output, most of which he wrote during the last decade of his life between 1918 and 1928, just as the Hungarians Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók began legitimizing his folk music research.

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…

Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary (1988)

Riley offers a new, deeper understanding of the Beatles by closely considering each song and album they recorded in an exploration as rigorous as it is soulful.

"In Tell Me Why, a labor of loving obsession, Tim Riley minutely examines the music of the Beatles... Song by song, he notes the subtleties of craft and inspiration that keep the Beatles' recordings contemporary, illuminating music so familiar it's often taken for granted."

Jon Pareles, The New York Times