essays

Lenny Kaye

Lenny Kaye, courtesy of Ulf Hoberg

Cosmic Detail

Lenny Kaye’s Ecstatic New Rock History

 

Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll (HarperCollins, 2022)

Kaye’s voice, while sometimes cryptic, distills style into tart locutions, like his immaculate summary of Beatlemania: “Yeah times three. The mathematics of dream.”

 

If you can measure a book by its playlist, Lenny Kaye’s Lightning Striking surfs peak rock’n’roll moments, a music history that leaks pleasure. Its songs trace hidden galaxies in an exploding universe of ideas and feelings, and maps new orbits through a music that never stops revealing itself.

Kaye grew up in southern New Jersey, fled to the West Coast as a teenager and then lower Manhattan in the early 1970s, a road tripper in search of scenes. He resembles that subspecies of scenester who plugs away furiously as an awestruck participant, following the music religiously as both an acolyte and then sideman. The right-place right-time karma has him backing up an early Patti Smith poetry reading in St. Mark’s Church, Greenwich Village, in 1971. “It was only supposed to happen once.” He has been leading her band ever since…

Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These

How the media misframes Peter Jackson’s Get Back
Copper magazine, December 2021

 

Peter Jackson’s Get Back film tries to finesse the Beatles’ break-up while fulfilling the audience’s dream of a fantasy reunion. When the original Let It Be film first appeared in theaters in the summer of 1970, the sight of McCartney and Harrison bickering seemed to confirm the tabloids’ reportage of the Beatles’ camaraderie gone sour, to the point where the band members themselves seem to have internalized this perception. After restoring 57 hours of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s grainy 16 mm footage, Jackson shifted from a feature film 2-1/2 hours long to an 8-hour streaming deal with Disney+. (This resembles the way the original 1969 concept changed midstream from TV show to feature film plus album.) Jackson has also steered press coverage towards Apple’s PR campaign: “I kept waiting for the bad parts to come, and they never came,” goes one of his oft-cited sound bites…

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

Mind Games

The Beatles: Get Back glosses over the band’s acrimonious end
The Conversation, Dec 3, 2021

 

In the new film “The Beatles: Get Back,” “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson tries to dispel the myth of the the Beatles’ breakup.

In 1970, Michael Lindsay-Hogg released “Let It Be,” a film documenting the band’s recording sessions for their eponymous album. The movie depicted George Harrison arguing with Paul McCartney – and it hit theaters shortly after news of the band’s breakup emerged. Many filmgoers at the time assumed this depicted the days and weeks during which everything fell apart…

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

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…

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

White-Knuckling It

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, the “divorce” album at 50, Copper magazine, issue 137, October, 2021

 

The 1970s dawned with a blistering hangover as the 1960s bled right into the new decade. On September 13, 1969, just before Abbey Road began dominating end-of-’60s radio, John Lennon sang at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, an early 1950s festival. He called his pickup group the Plastic Ono Band: Eric Clapton (lead guitar), Klaus Voorman (bass) and Alan White (drums). They launched with standards, “Blue Suede Shoes, “Money,” and then “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” before turning to Lennon’s “Yer Blues,” an unreleased “Cold Turkey,” and “Give Peace a Chance,” his anti-war chant. Then he turned the stage over to his Japanese-American wife, Yoko Ono, who screamed against Lennon’s guitar feedback for almost half an hour. It stupefied the audience. One week later, at an Apple business meeting in London, Lennon told the other Beatles he wanted a “divorce.” However, Lennon agreed to keep a lid on his departure – they were in the middle of contract negotiations, and if word got out, they could lose leverage. From that point on, the chronology went extremely fuzzy for most fans, as the overlap between Beatles group releases overlapped with the members’ early solo records. Plans progressed for a Let It Be album and film early in 1970 (shot in January 1969) as the breakup remained a secret.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

Born-Again Brahms

Andras Schiff with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Copper Magazine, issue 140, July 5, 2021

 

The intrepid Hungarian pianist András Schiff has pressed against received wisdom since indulging in Bach early on and rarely programming any Chopin (a cornerstone of any pianist’s repertoire). You can count his 1989 recording of the first Brahms concerto (with Georg Solti) as a solid if unremarkable release. But his Romantic impulses tilt more towards Schubert (his tempting sonata cycle on the London label), his emotional anchor soars with Beethoven (complete sonatas on ECM), and his modernism leaves off at Bartok. Schiff focused on Schumann long before much of Brahms, he doesn’t go near Liszt, and programs a lot of Scarlatti. Such relatively conservative taste now skews adventurous as he approaches 70…

The Gigantor of Art

Alex Ross’ new book Wagnerism, LA Review of Books, September 15, 2020

In an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm called “Trick or Treat,” Larry David whistles Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” outside a movie theater. Another patron confronts him about how he must be a self-hating Jew to whistle Wagner so nonchalantly; after all, the Nazis played that music in the camps. Alex Ross describes this scene, in his dense new book Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music.

Puppies, Rainbows, and Ken Burns: Country Music, Smoothed Over

Ken Burns’ Country Music: An Illustrated History, truthdig, September 20, 2019

A very good friend of mine, now deceased, interviewed Buck Owens back in the 1990s as the Buckaroo promoted his box set. My friend pitched Owens his favorite softball: “Hank or Lefty?” Owens, without blinking, shot back: “Merle.”  In Ken Burns’ new 16-hour PBS documentary, “Country Music,” Merle Haggard muses fondly about the early 1950s, when every jukebox posed that weighty question to all honky-tonkers: Hank or Lefty, savior or sinner, martyr or scoundrel?

Adrift in Cosmic Quarantine: Randy Newman Turns 77
LA Review of Books, November 28, 2020

The Darwin of the Classics: Hearing Homer’s Songs by Robert Kanigal
LA Review of Books, May 3, 2021

No Success Like Failure: Will Birch’s Nick Lowe biography
LA Review of Books, August 22, 2019

Evolution of a Medium,” Emily Nussbaum’s TV criticism, Truthdig, July 12, 2019

“Return of the Unrepressed,” The Beatles White Album at 50, LA Review of Books, Jan. 24, 2019

Black Lives Matter and the Untold Story of Altamont,” Truthdig, Sept. 21, 2018

“Dylanizing the Great American Songbook,” Bob Dylan’s Triplicate, Los Angeles Review of Books, June 17, 2018

Serkin, Gould and the Pianist’s Ideal,” Rudolf Serkin: The Complete Columbia Album Collection, and Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations: The Complete Unreleased Recording Sessions, box sets review, Truthdig, Jan. 26, 2018

“Sticky Fingers:The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” by Joe Hagan, Truthdig, Dec. 23, 2017

Authory/timriley