The best songs about visual artists

As startling as it it is to admit, I head Don McLean’s forgotten “Vincent” at Publix today. I’m glad for his sake it isn’t as famous as “American Pie”; had it been we would’ve had major cultural convulsions. In its current form it affirms the standard cliches about artists: we need crazy people like VanContinue reading “The best songs about visual artists”

A coherent ‘Dune’ is a good ‘Dune’

One of the satisfactions I thought the World of Dune offered was the lack of proper names as ridiculous as the Star Wars universe did. No Boba Fett, Commander Cody, and Kylo Ren here. Halfway into the second adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel I dropped my pen. Duncan Idaho. Not Jones Indiana — DuncanContinue reading “A coherent ‘Dune’ is a good ‘Dune’”

The best songs about The Beatles

The most moving appropriation of Beatlesmania mythos occurred four years ago when rap duo Rae Sremmurd mimicked the quartet’s rooftop body moves in the video for “Black Beatles.” Even Paul McCartney, PR pro, liked it! Almost as witty is Ella Fitzgerald’s “Ringo Beat,” in which she admonishes her son for not playing as well asContinue reading “The best songs about The Beatles”

Ranking #23 singles, U.S. edition, 1999-2002

Why does Madonna scowl? She hears the strains of Alien Ant Farm’s Michael Jackson cover. She might also feel the heat from “Love at First Sight,” pure buoyancy, the closest the bubbles of French pop house champagne tickled the nose of the American top 40 listenership. Man, do I feel like a woman!

‘The Velvet Underground’ is good, does what it should, alas

Warm, literate, and unexpectedly puckish, Jonathan Richman looks like a youngish older man or an aging younger one. In the late sixties he got the best education in rock guitar playing a fan could’ve had: he went to every Velvet Underground concert he could. “These people would understand me!” he says in a gosh-darn toneContinue reading “‘The Velvet Underground’ is good, does what it should, alas”

The concept of school seems so secure: Songs about teaching and teachers

“Teacher, there are things I don’t want to learn,” George Michael moaned on his third consecutive #1 in America, a ballad called “One More Try” consisting of a keyboard preset and a live bass. When he died in 2016 I called it the gay “Maggie May.” I assemble this list as a valentine to theContinue reading “The concept of school seems so secure: Songs about teaching and teachers”

Me and God, we don’t get along: The best songs about sin

Art depends on reveling in the wrong, and the following — not definitive! — list delineates how everyone from The Kendalls and Tammy Wynette to The Cramps and Kanye West vacillate between expiating sin to accepting the tastiness of sin. With country songs I could double this list.

A little joy into our humdrum lives: The twenty best musicals

Inspired by a WhatsApp post in which I solicited advice: do I show Singin’ in the Rain or Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket as a example of narrative in my film class? In three weeks my students have watched Touch of Evil (yawns), Playtime (a fascinated what-the-fuck-is-this?), The Grand Budapest Hotel (hello!), and Battleship Potemkin (bored what-the-fuck-is-this).Continue reading “A little joy into our humdrum lives: The twenty best musicals”

Checking out Fromm, some Sartre, Camus: The best songs about writing

As a music writer who values Aurora Leigh as much as Lou Reed’s chords and Ghostface’s metaphors, I’m loath to value literary allusions for their own sake. But listening to “Thieves in the Night” this morning provoked me into wondering how many songs I love refer to literary figures and aren’t stuffy about it. VanContinue reading “Checking out Fromm, some Sartre, Camus: The best songs about writing”

How modern conservative aikido works

A few months ago, before the delta-fueled COVID surge, the world learned about David and Leila Centner, the Republican grifters who of course found a home in Florida (the state with the prettiest name!) and opened a school whose principles prohibited teachers from getting the COVID vaccine.

The best songs about being alone

When Lucinda Williams shared her state of independence with me in 1998 as a nascent gay man, I understood. “A little time to think,” she yearned in “Side of the Road,” about loving a boyfriend but requiring time away to think and be herself: she wanted a space where she could exist as a personContinue reading “The best songs about being alone”