Productive Distractions (aka Those Damn Pages)

It’s a good bet that, if I haven’t posted for awhile, I’ve been reading more than usual. For me, usual is constantly, and I have been reading more than constantly, whatever the adverb for that is. Much of my reading has concerned music, and I’d recommend pretty much all of it.


Ian Hunter’s long-unavailable Diary of a Rock and Roll Star has recently been released by Omnibus in a new edition. I’d long wanted to read it, but either couldn’t find or afford a used copy.  Finally in my grip, it lived up to my sustained high expectations–it even surprised me. Hunter’s frequently very funny: picture the writer and singer of “Sea Diver” sweeping up a minefield of cat-grunt in his flat before he catches his flight to the U.S. He’s very insightful: about the early-Seventies U. S. landscape, about the record biz, about stardom, about band chemistry. He’s got a killer eye: when action slows, his detailed observation of his surroundings can frequently make relative stasis stimulating. And–particularly if you picture him behind glitter, guitar and shades–he’s charmingly mature (his wife was frequently present, so there’s that, but even so he convincingly view groupies as an annoyance and at one point weaponizes them in a prank on the group’s roadies). It’s a real compliment to his talent as a journalist (of sorts) that, despite the fact that he references his bowel movements–travel sucks!–as often as substance indulgence, its pages move the reader forward pretty contagiously.

Most relevant to this blog, it clears my bar for music books: a) it sent me straight back to Mott’s music (I’m still stuck on it even though I finished the book weeks ago), and b) it cost me money–I sprang (rather impulsively, since I duplicated much I already owned) for both the new early-Mott Mental Train six-disc box set and (rather thoughtlessly, since I had digital copies of each, and since…CDs) CD copies of Mott and All the Young Dudes. I’m a hopeless victim of consumerism, but at least I’m celebrating art while in those chains. I could be a bit more stoopid….



It’s really too early for me to write about the above sure-to-be-classic because I am still in its thrall. I love Abdurraqib’s two previous books, one a collection of poetry (The Crown Ain’t Worth Much), the other a collection of essays (They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us), both of which showcase the author’s unique skill at not only absorbing and expressing the very particular fears and pain of being a person of color in these United States right now, but also revealing how his fellow artists do the same. Few current writers explain more viscerally how great music opens out, explains, challenges, and buffers the world its audience lives in–he’s one of the best music writers alive (the terms “reviewer” or “critic” don’t do him justice). This is a stray thought I haven’t wrestled fully enough with, but in some ways he is the literary point person for the relatively new strain of openly emotional, frequently depressive wave of r & b, dance, and rap that I associate with Khalid, The Internet, and Ben LaMar Gay, to name just a few. It’s quite possible this subgenre’s been named and I just haven’t caught up, but its emergence is absolutely unsurprising, given the world as Abdurraqib describes it.

ANYHOW, in Go Ahead in The Rain, which stands strong as a ATCQ primer on its most basic level, Abdurraqib extends the above strengths even further. If you’ve ever cared about how the members of your favorite band cared about each other, how they managed to work together and pool their distinctly different talents to create lasting art, those moments and bands will be conjured as you read. If you’ve ever gravitated to and held on to a band like a life-preserver when you feared your world would swamp you, you’ll be transported back to those crises. If you ever took a band’s dissolution personally–if you ever felt a break-up like a gut-punch, and if you ever knew such a phenomenon meant more than just what it was–you’ll feel much less than a fanboy/girl after this (that is, if you ever did). But don’t get the impression from the nostalgic tint and past tense verbs of that sentence-spew that Go Ahead in The Rain is a lament for the better days (and beats and rhymes) long gone. The presence in the world of Tribe’s last album, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, released with shocking timeliness in November of 2016, will hover in the reader’s mind (if s/he knows it, of course, but if s/he doesn’t–what the fuck???) through the first three-quarters of the book, and when it touches down in Abdurraqib’s pages–well, I had to gather myself a bit before I proceeded. Note: fans of the author will not be surprise that the ghost of Leonard Cohen wafts into these proceedings.

It’s tangentially related, but don’t expect Abdurraqib to condemn so-called “mumble rap.” If you’ve read his past work, it’s hard to imagine you would, but this book’s title might make you wonder. What he does have to say about that subgenre is as eloquent and redemptive as anything I’ve read on the subject. It’s common sense, really, but they say such a thing has taken wing.

Go Ahead in The Rain is a damn good book. A great one. Mine was a library copy–I finished it, returned it, and went and bought a copy to keep and re-read. That’s my review, really.


Don’t ask me why I took me until this year for me to subscribe to The Wire because it’s right up my (but possibly not your) alley. I have read shared articles from the London-based magazine for years, most of which I’ve enjoyed, but was never moved to actually do the deep dive. To put it simply, The Wire is very seriously devoted to music that’s experimental or otherwise very much out of the ol’ main stream. Also put simply, it overwhelms me. Some of my few readers may wonder how I stay on top of what I already struggle to stay on top of; this invaluable resources always immediately reminds me that too much exciting music is being made for anyone to stay on top of–ever.

To the point of this entry, though, the current issue features spectacularly informative articles about two acts (for lack of a better word) I already loved but clearly needed to know more about: the First Nations artists Tanya Tagaq (article by Phil England) and A Tribe Called Red (article by Marcus Boon). Each piece provided thrilling revelations: I have Tagaq’s recently-published memoir, Split Tooth, on the way, and I’ve repeat-played the two ATCR albums I didn’t even know about several times this week. In addition, tucked away in the ATCR piece was a reference to the “Cypress Hill-influenced” Native American rap group piquantly named Snotty Nose Rez Kids. Turns out this relatively new crew has two very fucking good records out, with a 2018 single on Apple Music portending a third. Then there’s Jeremy Dutcher, basically an Indian classical musician hollering back at old wax cylinder recordings. If you don’t read The Wire and you’re a seeker, best get on board. It’s pretty cheap if you go digital, but it would be worth the price if you wanted a hard copy.

Sample a playlist of First Nations brilliance.



Quiet Dog

I’m still struggling with what to do with this blog. I flit from idea to idea; I get discouraged because I feel I’m just doing it as an exercise (what’s wrong with that?), and get frustrated because I not only get bored with formats too easily, but also frequently feel my spigot twist violently shut and hear voices telling me I’ve got nothing to say: “You’re just a kind of aggregator!” (What’s wrong with that?)

Anyhow, well, here’s some things I can report from recently.

I had a headphone experience with the New York Dolls’ debut. I’ve listened to that disc a million times, but it really popped out the chicken skin this time ’round. I’m usually the first to roll my eyes when I hear someone (usually around my age) says there isn’t good music anymore, but it’s this shit that makes me wonder (for a few minutes). If anyone or any band is saying this much right now, it’s not being said with so much thrilling musical hell breaking loose all around it. If anyone or any band is loosing this thick a slab of musical hell right now, they ain’t saying near as much. “I’m talkin’ ’bout your overview,” indeed–David’s words must resonate with any conscious adult walking around in this world, and the noise Johnny wrenches from his axe testifies to his resulting dislocation.

I bitched about the mildness of 2019’s best records and got my comeuppance. It’s all coincidence, but March’s music came in like a lioness, and delivered quite a litter. I was really craving a undeniable, catchy, beatwise classic, and I got at least one of those, though its classic status will depend on how many other people feel the same way. To wit:

Little Simz: Grey Area (“Lady Don’t Tek No” division–this is my “undeniable, catchy, beatwise classic, although it tails off a bit on the back end)

Royal Trux: White Stuff (“Rock and Roll Never Gives Up” division)

James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto (“Call & Response” division)

2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League (“Ball is Life” division)

Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of the Blues (“Doing the Work” division)

Dave: PSYCHODRAMA (“Rap Opera” division)

Robert Forster: Inferno (“Old Friends” division)

…and I haven’t even absorbed the new Solange yet.

My life was enriched by a couple Toms. Specifically, Tom Moon, the admirable and indefatigable author of 1000 Records to Hear Before You Die (published in 2008), and Tom Hull, a fellow Midwesterner who quietly, reliably, intelligently and astonishingly keeps record nerds country-wide abreast of a truckload of new records each month that they might want to familiarize themselves with. They are men after my own heart because they strive to listen to the most promising example of damn near everything, the music lovers’ equivalent to diners who’d never order the same thing from the same menu twice if they could help it. Aren’t you suspicious of anyone who just likes one thing? For some reason looking for more reading to add to my already mountainous pile, I realized I hadn’t really looked carefully at the last half of Moon’s book. Many hours later, I had a bulging-at-the-seams Apple Music playlist of mostly international releases like this gem from the Andes:

Mr. Hull was so kind to reference this blog in his monthly Streamnotes report–to my delight (mainly because I was able to pay him back for his many hot and accurate tips) I’d encouraged him to listen to a few items he liked. Here’s a neat thing he pushed me towards:

I suggest that my readers make themselves familiar with both these Tom cats and you’ll seldom lack for anything substantial to feed your ears. And here is a Spotify playlist derived from Moon’s book to back me up.

My wife and I had a Hank Williams jam on a Saturday night. On the way to and back from a dinner at one of our favorite restaurants–one hour round-trip–Nicole and I indulged in a Hillbilly Shakespeare yell-along. Hank’s the country version of Sam Phillips’ comment about Howlin’ Wolf: his music is where the soul of man never dies. Nicole: “Somehow I know the lyrics to all of these songs.” Indeed. It is near mystical. The next day, she beckoned her Facebook friends to share their favorite Hank songs, and we were surprised to find that he is not as well-known and thoroughly absorbed by our population as we thought, another sign of the apocalypse. One of my very favorites (Hiram liked to talk to his heart):

I found out 504 Records is still releasing music. 504 Records is an itsy-bitsy New Orleans label that, in my experience, has never released an uninteresting record. Its focus is local–and why not? New Orleans music is inexhaustible. Whenever I’m in the Crescent City, I head to the French Market, where there is one-count ’em-one music kiosk that always offers 504 stock. The “new” release contains very rare and fascinating recordings by local hero Cousin Joe, James Booker (“The Bayou Maharajah”), and jack-of-all-pickin’ guitar ace Snooks Eaglin. It is nicely titled Rhapsody in Bronze, if you can’t access the French Market you can order it pretty much JUST from Louisiana Music Factory, and…here’s a sample:

Annnnnnnd–guess who’s back? That’s right! The Meat Puppets (on record)…

…and Ian Hunter (on the page–his 1972 tour diary’s seen a new edition published).