riley rock report

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…

keep reading at the Los Angeles Review of Books

flip through the archives, or visit the classical page

Austin Butler as Elvis

Reconsider Baby

Elvis, directed by Baz Luhrmann
Copper Magazine at PS Audio

Among other things, Elvis Presley invented the rock ’n’ roll comeback. Up until 1968, ”coming back” from a career break barely existed in the new style since most fell short, or failed. Carl Perkins’s 1956 car crash just before his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show interrupted his “Blue Suede Shoes” momentum at a crucial moment. When it leaked on his 1958 UK tour that his wife was only 13, Jerry Lee Lewis sought redemption by appealing to the only audience that might forgive him: country and western, and country-gospel. With many others (Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Gene Vincent), fate delivered a cold, hard slap.

Elvis bombed during his first Vegas stint in 1956 just as he tried to break nationwide, and when called him up for peacetime Army service in 1958, he feared losing most of his listeners. His 1960 Welcome Home Elvis TV appearance with Frank Sinatra sent his career into ultra-safe mode. John Lennon liked to say Elvis “died when he went into the Army.” Presley had so much ambition that comebacks turned into a defining feature of his career. His talent, and what it signaled, foretold of such flamboyance and shock that the world needed time to keep readjusting. It’s still adjusting… (keep reading here)

flip through the archives

Woody Guthrie, b. July 14, 1912

This World Was Lucky
How the Mermaid Avenue project reframes the legacy
Radio Silence, 2012

IN THE EARLY 1990s, Nora Guthrie, the daughter of the famous songwriter, came across a shoebox full of her father’s letters. Leafing through his notes, she soon found more boxes and was quickly overwhelmed. “I had just discovered that my father had written more song lyrics than any of us could ever imagine. Over 3,000 when I finally did the count,” she wrote in her liner notes to Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions. Suddenly Guthrie’s legend began talking an entirely new language, saying things even his daughter never suspected. “I had just discovered that he had a bad crush on Ingrid Bergman and dreamed of getting her pregnant,” she continued, “that he felt sorry for Hanns Eisler, that he was a proud lush and a comfortable luster, that he believed in flying saucers, that he was homesick for California, that he even knew who Joe DiMaggio was, let alone wrote a song about him, or that he once made out with a girl in a tree hollow when, as a kid, he bragged, ‘There ain’t nobody that can sing like me.'”

keep reading here

Made For TV:

Watergate at 50 and Arkansas Elvis

Gaslit, Starz
Impeachment: American Crime Story, FX
June 24, 2022
listen to audio narration here (10 mins)  


During another summer of congressional hearings, fights over national memory and history itself, Watergate can feel further than five decades in the past. In retrospect, Richard Nixon’s story feels both sealed off from our modern squabbles and a little pathetic; the petty cover-up President may actually gain stature next to the riverboat gambler insurrectionist cult tyrant. The Republican Congress that impeached President Bill Clinton for lying about his tryst with Monica Lewinsky feels closer, and not just for the way Special Prosecutor Ken Starr blanched as Clinton parsed the legal definition of sex…

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Shame About the Lyrics

#HBD Prince and His Silly Funk Index

Graffiti Bridge surfs on flaky greatness and drops a new censorship anthem

EVEN THOUGH HE’S NOT exactly ego-free, Prince has never been one of those loner pop stars who sing about how isolating fame can be. Throughout his decade-long orgy of insistent black pop music-making, while stealing shamelessly from the heroes he grew up listening to in the ’70s (George Clinton, Sly Stone, and, of course, James Brown), Prince has alternated between playing the self-sufficient studio monomaniac and beckoning like the barker to his own three-ring circus on tour…

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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.