‘Nico, 1988’ presents the last days of an icon

Until the moment of her 1988 death in the most banal of accidents, Nico had earned her distance from the Velvet Underground material that turned the model into a camp and often transfixing chanteur in the seventies: like any star, would-be and real, the costumes that the poor girl wore and the hand-me-down dresses from who knows where she also wove into challenging self-presentations. Continue reading

Ranking Michael Jackson

He still (moon)walks among us. His best songs here.

1. Off the Wall (1979)

Forget the singles for a moment. “I Can’t Help It” and “Get On the Floor” are marvels of delicacy and boogie fever, a boon to anyone to whom he would’ve donated them. The groove of “Workin’ Day and Night” shows no sign of havin’ to work. Then combine those four top ten singles. What a lithe, lissome listen, a masterpiece of R&B disco.

2. Dangerous (1991)

With beats as hard, small, and relentless as a hail storm, Dangerous updates Michael Jackson for the New Jack era but goes one better: Teddy Riley dances to Jackson’s rhythm (Riley’s tracks “build to exuberant meshes of synthetic beatplay and organic wordplay,” Chuck Eddy wrote in his original 1991 review). No Keith Sweat album slammed as hard as “Can’t Let Her Get Away” or “Jam.” At the same time, the self-produced ballads like “Heal the World” and “Will You Be There” add the high fructose corn syrup to the usual formula. I’m delighted how time has allowed Jackson’s first nineties album to shimmy like the incongruous, maladroit, frenetic, neurotic, amazing superstar project that Nevermind did its best to unintentionally obscure. “Who Is It” matches “Billie Jean” in intensity. “Give In to Me,” borrowed by Brantley Gilbert in 2014, bests “Dirty Diana.”

3. Thriller (1982)

Guess what, Don Henley? The RIAA re-certified Michael Jackson’s oeuvre for the streaming age. Believing streams matter as much as physical sales is a chimera I’ll leave to those more qualified than I am. In my rhetoric course last week, a student, during an icebreaker first-week discussion about music, asked me, “Off the Wall or Thriller?” Jackson’s 1982 album remains a totem. My nieces and godson danced to “Billie Jean” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” in pre-K. Too high to get over, too low to get under, Thriller will keep drawing fans until the oceans swallow coastal cities. All I can add to the discussion is my endorsement of “Baby Be Mine,” which I hear on quiet storm lots more than “Human Nature” (ground zero for Ne-Yo and Stargate) these days.

4. Bad (1986)

One of the duller blockbuster followups to a blockbuster, Bad relies on Jackson’s increasing comfort with the arsenal of vocal tics at his command (he wouldn’t find beats commensurate with their singularity until the next album). I still can’t stand “Dirty Diana.” You want a decent Stevie Wonder-Michael Jackson collaboration? Here’s “Get It” from Wonder’s Characters.

5. Invincible (2001)

It took Marsha Ambrosius for me to hear what Michael Jackson did in “Butterflies.” Jackson puts Rodney Jerkins through his paces. Too long, often embarrassing, but you knew that.

What happened in Florida?!

Watching MSBC’s Steve Kornacki fly out of his sneakers yesterday as he read the results from Florida counted as one of the few moments of unalloyed pleasure since we Americans elected a white supremacist as president. I voted for Andrew Gillum two Saturdays ago expecting Gwen Graham or Jeff Greene to deliver a victory speech. But the Tallahassee mayor, whom I first noticed last September when he slammed Governor Rick Scott’s handling of Hurricane Irma’s aftermath, barnstormed the state from end to end. In his response to the red tide disaster that has strangled the west coast, he shamed Bill Nelson; he understood that livelihoods depended on how the state responds to natural disasters in large part caused by overdevelopment and Big Sugar in a peninsula with meager supplies of fresh water.

But here we are, and my Democratic friends have begun to rend their garments. Traumatized by over two decades of GOP rule in the governorship and legislature, they thought the less progressive-leaning candidates stood a better chance against Trump bot Ron DeSantis, a mendacious hustler who clothes his children in the leader’s raiment. What’s stunning about Gillum is he grabbed votes everywhere: Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County, sure, but also rural Panhandle counties and Jacksonville. Turnout was stunning (look at Lee County, for crissakes). He excited people. He looked and sounded like no other candidate.

Meanwhile Graham, Levine, and Green — jeez, even their names in sequence read like a boring corporate law firm based in St. Petersburg — sounded like every amiable cautious Florida politician whom the Florida Democratic Party in its sagacity has pushed for the nomination since the civil rights era, a candidate that could unite disaffected swing voters and, of course, the mythical GOP voter “on the fence.” My well-meaning friends no doubt treasure how Buddy McKay, Bill McBride, Alex Sink, and Charlie Crist won term after term in the governor’s race after the era of Lawton Chiles, our last eight-year Democratic governor, keeping the state solidly blue. Demanding less wishy-washy candidates but cowering at the thought of how a white voter in Apalachicola might punch her ballot has quashed any flowering of liberalism in Florida.

Know this, my friends: if Graham had won the primary, the GOP would have turned her into Helen Gahagan Douglas; if Levine or Greene had won, the GOP would have turned him into George McGovern. We’ve tried that kind of candidate before and lost. How much worse can Andrew Gillum perform when exactly the right demographic groups in Florida’s most populous counties coalesced around him?

Now, of course, the candidate who had not a chance a week ago has the Chuck Todds of the American press to deal with for the next seventy days. An FBI investigation into Gillum’s community redevelopment agency has revealed influence peddling, none of which is linked to the mayor but he should expect attacks based on the dust cloud and they’ll come fast. That he offered few specifics during the primary I won’t hold against him. You need glittering generalities that excite people. I’m pretty sure the mayor of Florida’s capital and one of its largest cities realizes that ICE is a federal agency, and I’ve no doubt he knows the difference between Medicare and Medicaid; even I bollix the differences in conversation when thinking on my feet. But he’s got more attention now. Voters will notice the elisions, which will do my shellshocked Democratic friends no favors.

Still, I’ll concede that every one has said he or she would vote for Gillum — the alternative is deadly. They understand the stakes. It’s even possible that excitement for Gillum helps the hapless Nelson. But Donald Trump and DeSantis supporters had their worst scenario confirmed: after last night they’re running a white Trump supporter against a black liberal who can count on millions of minority voters.

Singles 8/24

After an estimable return in 2014, Neneh Cherry led my pack of singles this week, most of which are in the okay to eh range.

This, plus our Aretha Franklin coverage.

Click on links for full reviews.

Neneh Cherry – Kong (7)
Seungri – 1, 2, 3! (6)
Chloe x Halle ft. Joey Bada$$ – Happy Without Me (5)
Chvrches ft. Wednesday Campanella – Out of My Head (4)
The Chainsmokers ft. Emily Warren – Side Effects (4)
Bazzi ft. Camila – Beautiful (3)
DJ Khaled ft. Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper & Quavo – No Brainer (3)
Tyga ft. Offset – Taste (3)
Weezer – Africa (2)
Imagine Dragons – Natural (1)

‘Perhaps in Iowa. Perhaps in fields of grain.’

Yesterday, Splinter News published Paul Blest, who wrote the best John McCain obit I’ve read to date. This afternoon, Splinter News published Peggy Noonan’s latest slash fiction: a masterpiece of unintended comedy, failed poesy, tolerance for sexism, and self-pity. Classic Noonan, but more. This is, after all, the writer who praised the beauty of Ronald Reagan’s foot. Well, Beaut Foot popped up in again, a resident of the Valhalla to which McCain’s unsullied soul traveled.

‘What does it matter what you say about people?’

The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies
And you believe

–Elvis Costello, “New Lace Sleeves.”

John McCain died on Elvis Costello’s birthday, so a quote is appropriate. After exposing myself to the radioactive fallout of the obits, I realized with some comfort that mission accomplished: I despised McCain’s legacy even more than I did twenty-four hours ago. Continue reading

John McCain — RIP

The senior senator from Arizona’s career has been a long con game convincing the media that he opposed what they most wanted: a bipartisan don’t-criticize-the-prez foreign policy, indifference to the economic effects of the political class’ policies on the poor and working class, and a conviction that there is no division that you couldn’t settle in a Sunday morning talk show green room. Continue reading

Ranking Pavement albums

The delicious part of my recent exercises in ranking albums, as I recuperate from nearly ten months of writing about the worst songs ever, is how this minor project forces me to reconsider acts I don’t play much. I couldn’t have said so about Pavement twenty years ago when Stephen Malkmus was my beau ideal of a a rock artist: terrific guitarist, unpredictable and sometimes shambolic songwriter, possessor of fabulous bangs. Now I would just as lief play one of the EPs, home of their sexiest material (I could live in Pacific Trim: “Give It a Day”! “Saganaw”!) .

Continue reading