Category Archives: Listening Post

Power, class, and warfare: Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” turns 25

Christian Christensen explores the quarter-century long misunderstanding of Bruce Springsteen’s most famous song in a short, but incisive critique published in yesterday’s edition of CounterPunch.

Born in the USA is one of a small number of songs, films or television programmes (produced in large part in the United States) that can generate near-physical negative reactions with a mere mention of the title. (Films like Rambo and TV shows like The Jerry Springer Show fall into this category.) When the song was released, my own response to Springsteen’s creation, as a 15-year-old American boy living in the United Kingdom, was in line with those of many of my British friends: bemusement and indignation toward what appeared to be little more than a mindless anthem trumpeting the virtues of patriotism and American egomania. The song was brash, bragging and – to the irritation of people who despised the politics of Thatcher and Reagan – amazingly popular.

The song was embraced by the right as an anthem of triumphant nationalism in the 1980s, despite it’s critical lyrics. Springsteen’s politics in the eighties where not so well known and allowed listener’s to easily construct contradictory meanings.

In a 2004 interview in Rolling Stone magazine, Springsteen was philosophical about the relationship between himself and his fans, noting that audiences often engage in selective listening, suggesting that the meaning of popular music is as much the creation of the fan as it is of the band or the musician. Perhaps he was thinking of the various interpretations of Born in the USA when he said: “Pop musicians live in the world of symbology. You live and die by the symbol in many ways. You serve at the behest of your audience’s imagination. It’s a complicated relationship”.

Despite the right’s co-optation of Born in the USA, Christensen argues “the song continues to provide listeners with a reminder of the relationship between power, class and warfare.” And I agree. Indeed the same could be said of the majority of Springsteen’s oeuvre. But Christensen argues there is huge gap between image and reality when it comes to Springsteen work these days and points to the contradictions of his musical themes and images against his exclusive distribution deal with Wal-Mart, playing the Bridgestone/Firestone Super Bowl Half Time Show, etc.

The singer noted that when an artist’s work meets reality, the results can be painful for fans. “The audience and the artist are valuable to one another as long as you can look out there and see yourself, and they look back and see themselves,” he said. “When that bond is broken, by your own individual beliefs, personal thoughts or personal actions, it can make people angry. As simple as that.”

Wayne’s Favorite Albums of 2008

It was a superb year for music listening and adding a Sonos system transformed listening habits at our place. Having access to on-demand streaming of millions of tracks from Napster as well as hundreds of radio stations made it easy to listen to just about anything we wanted to hear—from 70’s schlock pop to opera. And we now have our dinner party game of pass the Sonos controller to choose the next tune we’ll listen to.

I loved reading reviews of new releases in the Tuesday paper and, without leaving my chair, queuing up the cds on Napster/Sonos, which lead to many purchase (and not-to-purchase) decisions.

I thought that my cd buying ways might be reigned in with access to Napster, but it actually had the opposite effect as I purchased about 50 more cds this year than last. Although, an eMusic subscription fueled many downloads of independent releases. Take a look at what I did pick up this year, here.)

No doubt the largest portion of my listening was devoted to Soma FM’s Groove Salad channel (“A nicely chilled plate of ambient beats and grooves”), which was the soundtrack to just about every evening.

Continuing a tradition, here’s a list of my favorite (purchased) albums from the past year. As usual, I have way more than a Top Ten list.

[BTW, you can get a 27 track iMix of my favorite tracks from the albums below on iTunes, “E. Wayne’s Favs of 2008”.]

Wayne’s Top Ten of 2008

  1. My Morning JacketEvil Urges
  2. Nick Cave & The Bad SeedsDig Lazarus Dig!
  3. B.B. King One Kind Favor
  4. Ryan AdamsCardinology
  5. Boston SpaceshipsBrown Submarine
  6. Alejandro EscovedoReal Animal
  7. Shelby Lynne Just a Little Lovin’
  8. Randy NewmanHarps and Angels
  9. The RaconteursConsolers of the Lonely
  10. Death Cab for Cutie Narrow Stairs

Best of the Rest (New Music) 2008

R.E.M. – Accelerate
JJ Grey & MofroOrange Blossoms
Howard Tate Blue Day
The Baseball ProjectVolume 1 Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails
Robert Pollard Is Off to Business
Rodney Crowell Sex and Gasoline
Jim WhiteTransnormal Skiperoo
Al GreenLay It Down
GoldfrappSeventh Tree
Susan TedeschiBack to the River
Buddy GuySkin Deep
Billy Bragg Mr Love & Justice
Black Mountain In the Future
Ray Davies Working Man’s Cafe
CalexicoCarried by Dust
Lindsey BuckinghamGift of Screws
Theivery CorporationRadio Retaliation
Nada SurfLucky
Chris WallaField Manual
Los Lonely BoysForgiven

Favorite Reissues of 2008

Titan! – It’s All Pop
Bobby Womack The Best of Bobby Womack – The Soul Years
Nick LoweJesus of Cool (Bonus Tracks)
Mott the HoopleOld Records Never Die: The Mott the Hoople/Ian Hunter Anthology
Dennis WilsonPacific Ocean Blue
Ry CooderThe UFO Has Landed
Bob DylanThe Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs – Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006

World’s first heavy metal conference hits Salzburg

The Guardian: World’s first heavy metal conference hits Salzburg

Salzburg to play host to the world’s first scholarly conference on heavy metal, the brainchild of UK academic Dr Niall Scott

The quaint alpine city of Salzburg is used to two kinds of musical visitors: fans of Mozart or the Sound of Music. It is, after all, the birthplace of both.

Next week, however, musical devotees of an altogether different sort will assemble under its baroque towers – and they’ll be sporting ponytails, leather jackets, boots and black t-shirts emblazoned with images of skulls and gore.

Salzburg will be host to the world’s first scholarly conference on heavy metal, the brainchild of UK academic Dr Niall Scott.

Headbangers from universities in Britain, Turkey, Canada and Indonesia will present research papers on heavy metal aesthetics, sub-cultures and politics.

Their studies will include “comparative empirical studies” on bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Metallica.

Research papers include Suicide, Booze and Loud Guitars: The Ethical Problem of Heavy Metal; Controlled Anger and the Expression of Intensity and Authenticity in Post-modern Heavy Metal; and Heavy Metal in a Muslim Context: The Rise of the Turkish Metal Underground.

R.I.P. Levi Stubbs

Here’s Dave Marsh on The Four Tops frontman, Levi Stubbs:


SOMETHING ABOUT YOU…When I was 15, I met the Four Tops on a downtown Detroit street, where they were doing a photo shoot with the Supremes. The group—especially Duke Fakir—were extraordinarily kind to a trio of white kids totally out of their element. I love the Four Tops for that, but I would have loved them anyway. They are the voice of adolescent angst and adult heartbreak, the pure, the absolute joy that humans can take in one another. Call them love songs –I’d say it was more like lifelines—but call them silly and you’ve branded yourself as a fool.

Phil Spector once said that “Bernadette” was a black man singing Bob Dylan. The name of that black man was Levi Stubbs. And for those of you who are Bruce Springsteen fans, go find the Tops greatest album, The Four Tops Second Album, and listen to “Love Feels Like Fire” and “Helpless,” two of my alltime Motown tracks (and they weren’t even singles). You’ll feel the same thing. Those crazed sax breaks are as close to free jazz as Motown ever let itself come, and they got away with it there solely because the Tops were such a perfect machine with the most powerful voice of its time at the fore. I could never figure out whether Levi was the toughest or the tenderest singer at Motown, so I finally accepted that he was both.

Yeah, a lot of the Tops is formula Holland Dozier Holland. Sometimes even I think it’s the Supremes when the intro to “It’s the Same Old Song” or “Something About You” comes on. So what? To begin with, HDH created the greatest formula in the history of rock and soul. Now: Go listen again to “Reach Out” and see if you can think of a Supremes record that could grab you in the gut that way. It’s the “Like a Rolling Stone” of soul—with a flute and hand percussion leading the way! The group always got Eddie Holland’s greatest lyrics (and he the most under-rated lyricist of the ‘60s) and that’s one.

They got those songs because Levi could sing the most impossible stuff. Any other soul singer I know would have insisted on editing. The great, long, image rich lines in “Bermandette” and “Ask the Lonely” were too long, that they needed more space to really sing. Not Levi. He charged into those words and wrestled everything out of them, and somehow, he sounded graceful as he did. “Loving you has made my life sweeter than ever” is so multisyllabic that they had to shorten it for the title: “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” fit the label better, I guess.

The Tops got away with that as a group because they knew how to work with such vocal intricacy. By the time they had their first Motown hit they’d already been together for ten years. Duke told me recently that their earlier sojourn at Columbia Records in the late ‘50s came after a brief appearance at the Apollo. The talent scout who signed them was John Hammond—the same guy who found Bob, Bruce, and Aretha. That’s the company the Four Tops, and Levi Stubbs, in particular belong in. Who else could turn “Walk Away Renee” into soul music? Who else could get away with “7 Rooms of Gloom” as a love song without a hint of irony, let alone comedy?

I will testify. Levi and the Tops were among the graces of my own soul. When I get nervous before an interview, I always remember how kind those guys were to that 15 year old kid, and I feel beyond harm. When I listen to “The Same Old Song,” I remember once again the sweetness of sour. “Bernadette” calls to my mind the futility of believing you’re in control, and how easy it is to confuse passion with obsession. “Reach Out” is simply as colossal an extravaganza as rock and soul music have ever produced, as monumental in its way as “Like a Rolling Stone.” The focal point of all that musical gingerbread and the mighty Funk Brothers is not the group—it’s one man, Levi Stubbs, pushed not to his limit but way past it. But there’s not a hint—not a second—where Levi Stubbs sounds like anything but a guy from down the street, across the way or in your mirror. Imagine a Pavarotti on the corner. There he is. All of it helped, somehow, make my own life possible.

This is no case of “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over).” Levi Stubbs was 72 years old. He hadn’t been in good health for several years. This isn’t Marvin Gaye or David Ruffin or Tammi Terrell. This is a man who made his full contribution to our culture, our lives. That doesn’t make it all that much easier to hear the word.

At the Tops’ golden anniversary show in Detroit several years ago, he sang from a wheelchair. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” his friend and attorney, Judy Tint, told me this afternoon.

File Sharing Lawsuits at a Crossroads, After 5 Years of RIAA Litigation

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From via

File Sharing Lawsuits at a Crossroads, After 5 Years of RIAA Litigation

By David Kravets September 04, 2008 | 5:55:39 PM from

RIAA attorney Donald Verrilli Jr. says file sharers are automatically liable for copyright infringement and monetary damages for using peer-to-peer networks. Casey Lentz is trying to settle her RIAA lawsuit. She says the RIAA is “harassing” her.
It was five years ago Monday the Recording Industry Association of America began its massive litigation campaign that now includes more than 30,000 lawsuits targeting alleged copyright scofflaws on peer-to-peer networks.

The targets include the elderly, students, children and even the dead. No one in the U.S. who uses Kazaa, Limewire or other file sharing networks is immune from the RIAA’s investigators, and fines under the Copyright Act go up to $150,000 per purloined music track.

But despite the crackdown, billions of copies of copyrighted songs are now changing hands each year on file sharing services. All the while, some of the most fundamental legal questions surrounding the legality of file sharing have gone unanswered. Even the future of the RIAA’s only jury trial victory — against Minnesota mother Jammie Thomas — is in doubt. Some are wondering if the campaign has shaped up as an utter failure.
“We’re just barely scratching the surface of the legal issues,” says Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer and one of the nation’s few who have taken an RIAA defendant’s case. “They’re extorting people — and for what purpose?”

When the first round of lawsuits were filed on Sept. 8, 2003 — targeting 261 defendants around the country — it was a hairpin turn from the RIAA’s previous strategy of going after services like Napster, RIAA president Cary Sherman said at the time. “It is simply to get peer-to-peer users to stop offering music that does not belong to them.” The goal in targeting music fans instead of businesses was “not to be vindictive or punitive,” says Sherman.

Today, the RIAA — the lobbying group for the world’s big four music companies, Sony BMG, Universal Music, EMI and Warner Music — admits that the lawsuits are largely a public relations effort, aimed at striking fear into the hearts of would-be downloaders. Spokeswoman Cara Duckworth of the RIAA says the lawsuits have spawned a “general sense of awareness” that file sharing copyrighted music without authorization is “illegal.”

“Think about what the legal marketplace and industry would look like today had we sat on our hands and done nothing,” Duckworth says in a statement. (The RIAA declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Casey Lentz, a 21-year-old former San Francisco State student, is among those caught in the RIAA’s PR campaign.

“They’re harassing me nonstop,” says Lentz, who’s been trying to settle her RIAA case, but can’t afford a lawyer. “I wasn’t the one who downloaded the music. It was a shared computer with my roommates and my friends. They want $7,500 for 10 songs.”

“I told them I only had $500 in my bank account. And they said ‘no way,'” she says.

Despite a fallow legal landscape, most defendants cannot afford attorneys and settle for a few thousand dollars rather than risk losing even more, Beckerman says. “There are still very few people fighting back as far as the litigation goes and they settle.”

“It costs more to hire a lawyer to defend these cases than take the settlement,” agrees Lory Lybeck, a Washington State attorney, who is leading a prospective class-action against the RIAA for engaging in what he says is “sham” litigation tactics. “That’s an important part of what’s going on. The recording industry is setting a price where you know they cannot hire lawyers. It’s a pretty well-designed system whereby people are not allowed any effective participation in one of the three prongs in the federal government.”

Settlement payments can be made on a website, where the funds are used to sue more defendants. None of the money is paid to artists.

The quick settlements have left largely unexamined some basic legal questions, such as the legality of the RIAA’s investigative tactics, and the question of what proof should be required to hold a defendant liable for peer-to-peer copyright infringement

In two cases, judges have ruled that making songs available on a peer-to-peer network does not constitute copyright infringement — the RIAA has to show that someone actually downloaded the material from a defendant’s open share folder. One of those cases is still mired in pretrial litigation. In the other, an Arizona judge issued a $40,000 judgment last week in favor of the recording industry, after learning the defendant tampered with his hard drive to conceal his downloading.

The so-called “making available” issue also emerged, belatedly, in the only RIAA file sharing lawsuit to go to trial: the case against Thomas, a Minnesota mother of three, who was slammed with a $222,000 judgment last year for sharing 24 tracks in her Kazaa folder.

Months after the Duluth, Minnesota jury’s October verdict, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis called the lawyers back to his courtroom. He said he likely committed a “manifest error” in the case by instructing (.pdf) the jury that merely offering music was infringement.

Judge Davis is expected any day to declare a mistrial in the case, and rule that the Copyright Act demands a showing of an actual “transfer” of files from Thomas’ share folder. If that line of reasoning is followed elsewhere, it endangers a key prong of the RIAA’s litigation strategy. The association believes it is technically impossible to prove that files offered on a peer-to-peer user’s shared folders were actually downloaded by anyone besides its own investigators. “It’s all done behind a veil,” RIAA attorney Donald Verrilli Jr. argued in the Thomas case last month.

That doesn’t mean the RIAA would be dead in the water. The recording industry could try to prove, through forensic examination, that the shared files were pirated to begin with, i.e., that the defendant infringed copyright law by downloading the music, before sharing it again. It’s also possible the courts will find that — as the RIAA has argued — downloads by the RIAA’s investigators can be considered infringement by the file sharer; digital rights advocates counter the recording industry should not be able to pay investigators to make downloads of its own music, and then declare them unauthorized copies.

The RIAA’s investigative tactics have come under attack as well. In a few states — Michigan, Texas, Florida, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon and Arizona — state governments and RIAA defendants have challenged the qualifications of the private company that develops the music industry’s cases.

MediaSentry — aka SafeNet — specializes in logging into peer-to-peer networks, where it downloads some music, takes screenshots of open share folders and documents the offending IP address. The RIAA’s position is that the online sleuthing isn’t covered by state laws regulating private investigators. But Michigan (.pdf) recently disagreed, and told MediaSentry it needed a private investigator’s license to continue practicing in that state.

Against that shifting legal backdrop, a handful of universities, including the University of Oregon, have begun refusing to divulge students’ names in file sharing lawsuits, on privacy grounds.

Nobody can credibly dispute that file sharing systems are a superhighway for pirated music. “There is no doubt that the volume of files on P2P is overwhelmingly infringing,” says Eric Garland, president of Los Angeles research firm BigChampagne. But critics of the RIAA say it’s time for the music industry to stop attacking fans, and start looking for alternatives. Fred von Lohmann, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the lawsuits are simply not reducing the number of people trading music online.

“If the goal is to reduce file sharing,” he says, “it’s a failure.”

Boston rappers’ “Kill Bill O’Reilly” single condemned by media, for some reason

The Boston Herald reports that Boston rap trio East Coast Avengers’ new single, “Kill Bill O’Reilly,” whose lyrics call for the Fox News star to “be hanged like Benito Mussolini and otherwise killed,” is causing outrage among Reilly’s right-wing admirers and others, like Keith Olberman:

“Gentlemen, I’m the last person to disagree with you on the chicken hawk, lying coward, sexist, racist, needs a face-lift, whore stuff, but you really need to re-cut this track,” Olbermann said addressing the Avengers last week on his MSNBC show “Countdown.” “Nobody’s life should be threatened, not even in the hyperbole of the moment. Beside, you are rappers. You have better ethics than Bill O’Reilly does. Live up to them. Don’t live down to him. Word to your mother.”

In may ear…since April and favorite CDs of 2008 (so far)

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my listening habits here, April to be exact.

Anyway, I continue to love listening to Napster via my Sonos. It’s paricularly fun to stream the new releases on Tuesday mornings as I read reviews of the latest CDs in the paper. And Soma Fm, especially the “Groove Salad” channel, which is as they say “a nicely chilled plate of ambient beats and grooves,” has become a staple or dinner time listening.

Here‘s what I’ve picked up CDwise since April.

Here are a few albums that are favorites of the 2008 releases:
Ry Cooder, I Flathead
Shelby Lynne, Just A Little Lovin’

Billy Bragg, Mr. Love & Justice
Black Mountain, In the Future
The Racontuers, Consolers Of The Lonely
R.E.M., Accelerate
Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal
My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges
Jim White, Transnormal Skiperoo
Daniel Lanois, Here Is What Is
Ray Davies,Working Man’s Cafe
The Best Of Bobby Womack – The Soul Years
The Baseball Project, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
Death Cab For Cutie, Narrow Stairs
Al Green, Lay It Down

Sha Na Na: From Rock ‘n’ Roll Stardom to Academe

The Chronicle of Higher Education: From Rock ‘n’ Roll Stardom to Academe


How do you top the thrill of playing at Woodstock? By going to graduate school, of course.

Just ask the members of Sha Na Na, who were the penultimate act at the legendary 1969 rock festival, in the slot just before Jimi Hendrix. Of Sha Na Na’s 12 original members, eight went on to get advanced degrees. The musicians, who blended doo-wop choruses with blazing dance moves, formed from a Columbia University a cappella group in the late 60s.

Beneath the group’s retro varnish, Sha Na Na’s story mirrors its generation’s: Square teenagers come to college from the suburbs and promptly trade in turtlenecks and stiff dance moves for shimmying, getting girls, and hanging out at clubs. As the decade recedes, they come back down to earth and rejoin the establishment, becoming lawyers, academics, and doctors.

“I don’t think I ever went to a rock concert till I was in a rock concert,” says Rob A. Leonard, a founding member and, today, a professor of linguistics at Hofstra University.

Sha Na Na was the brainchild of Rob Leonard’s brother, George, who was working on his Ph.D. George J. Leonard, now a professor of interdisciplinary humanities at San Francisco State University, wanted to revive 50s innocence through doo wop, making it avant-garde. He became a Svengali, teaching members dance moves and impressing them with his older girlfriend and Lincoln hard-top convertible. Sha Na Na’s first shows in 1969 were a sensation. By the end of summer the group had a gig at Woodstock.

“After that, my college experience was completely abnormal,” says Bruce C. Clarke, a professor of literature and science at Texas Tech University.

Members balanced lives as rock stars and students by taking classes that met in the middle of the week and touring on extended weekends. Rob Leonard, who would later do years of research in East Africa, originally took Swahili because it was the only introductory language class that didn’t meet on a Friday. Rich T. Joffe, who got a Ph.D. after leaving the group but is now an antitrust lawyer, remembers reading an introductory economics textbook on an airplane while the rest of his severely hung-over bandmates tried to sleep.

As time went on, performing took its toll. Rob Leonard started falling asleep during a 10 a.m. linguistics class; Mr. Clarke recalls skipping a party to read Rilke in his hotel room.

Slowly, members peeled off, pursuing separate paths. Mr. Clarke put himself through his first few years of graduate school with money he’d saved from tours. Alan M. Cooper, now provost and a professor of Jewish studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, wondered if he should go back to the band when he couldn’t find housing at Yale graduate school. They all watched as the band took on new members and grew, starring in a variety show and appearing in the film Grease, which hit theaters 30 years ago this month.

All agree that Sha Na Na shaped them professionally. Mr. Cooper still relies on his performance instincts when he teaches. George Leonard calls his bandmates “the best students I ever had.” Musing on how Sha Na Na influenced him, Rob Leonard says, “Well, you can’t escape rock and roll.”

In my ear (March)

Working%20Man%27s%20Cafe.jpgRay Davies,—Working Man’s Cafe—Outstanding new album…My favorite of the year to this point

Real%20Emotional%20Trash.jpg Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Real Emotional Trash—Pavement guy’s best solo effort IMHO

2183.jpgThe Uprising, The Other America—Americana with a conscience from Rouge Forum types

Another%20Country.jpgTift Merritt, Another Country

Chronicle%2C%20Vol.%201%3A%20The%2020%20Greatest%20Hits.jpgCredence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle Vol. 1

Just%20A%20Little%20Lovin%27.jpgShelby Lynne,—Just a Little Lovin’—Bona fide album of the year stuff, remakes of Dusty Springfield tunes, plus one original from Shelby

Magnificent%20Fiend.jpgHowlin Rain, Magnificent Fiend—Retro progressive rock; good companion to Black Mountain

Moon.jpgRobert Pollard, Moon—Excellent live album of Pollard’s recent stuff…indie pop/pysch pop

Naturally.jpgSharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Naturally—Superfine retro funk, just like being in the 70s again

Pictures%20of%20a%20Changing%20World.jpgThe Photographic, Pictures of a Changing World—Instrumental rock out of Louisville, KY (#1 selling album at ear x-tacy when I was there last month)

Rain.jpgJoe Jackson, Rain—Joe back in his old (80s) form, good to hear

East%20Nashville%20Skyline.jpgTodd Snider, East Nashville Skyline—Another smart (and smartass) album from Snider, love “Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males”

Seventh%20Tree.jpgGoldfrapp, Seventh Tree—Takin’ a break from the dance beats to chillout with acoustic guitars…

Soldier%20On%20Ep.jpgAndrew Bird, Soldier On—EP from engaging singer/songwriter/violinist/whistler

Soul%20Explosion.jpgDaktaris, Soul Explosion—Heavyweight AfroFunk

Transnormal%20Skiperoo.jpgJim White, Transnormal Skiperoo—Jim is happy now, but still making interesting trip hop-ish music

Waved%20Out.jpgRobert Pollard, Waved Out—Pollard’s second solo album form 1998