The Surrealist Photos of Bob Dylan by Daniel Kramer and Daniel Schatzberg

June 18th, 2009

An article I wrote last week: The Surrealist Photos of Bob Dylan by Daniel Kramer and Daniel Schatzberg.

Chris Mars in Edina

March 5th, 2009

My girlfriend, Julia, and I saw Chris Mars last night in Edina at a book-signing/small exhibition he was doing for his new book Tolerance. Chris was a very cool and very nice guy.

Besides talking to Chris, the best thing was seeing his paintings in the flesh (so to speak). Photographs of his paintings don’t do them justice. There is a luminosity shining out through some of the figures in the paintings that makes them seem alive and more engagingly hopeful than their reproductions in the book.

A recurrent theme in the paintings is the idea of people being cast out from their natural homes and place in society and alienated from those still living within conventional society. And the outcasts are the victims of some of their fellow beings. There is a tension between two opposing groups in society. Those being abused and those doing the abusing. Those still living within the system and those who have left it voluntarily or have been forced out. But it’s not as simple as some people being good and some people being bad. There is a general darkness and malaise in the paintings showing that there are darker forces at work and perhaps the oppressors are simply pawns of these larger forces. The villains are simply those who didn’t have the moral strength to stand up to these larger forces.

The outcasts and misfits are quite often pictured living in the street while houses glow warmly in the background. While they might yearn for the comforts of their old homes, these outcasts haven’t forsaken their integrity, purity, and sympathy for fellow beings.

As for the oppressors in the paintings, you don’t know whether you should pity them, hate them, or both. On the one hand, there are larger forces at work, political and corporate, that make it easy and expedient for them to play the role of bullying martinets in service to the real powers at work. On the other hand, not everyone in the paintings has given in to these larger forces. Some of the people being bullied have no choice in the matter because of physical or mental illnesses or weaknesses that make it hard or impossible for them to resist. But others have the honesty and integrity to see through the lies and resist, while helping those who aren’t strong enough to fight back on their own.

The conventional attitude today seems to be that playing by the rules of large corporations (or morally corrupt political leaders), getting what you think is “yours”, and looking the other way when it’s convenient for your conscience to do so is the cool, smart thing to do. That’s what winners do. And you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of the winners/losers line. Chris Mars’ paintings show the ugly lie behind this attitude and way of living. The oppressors and the ones who look the other way are the truly ugly ones in the paintings. They might think they’re not the ugly ones (or, maybe, deep inside they have doubts), but they are.

But, as I said, there is something hopeful shining out of the paintings I saw last night in Edina that I don’t see quite so clearly in photographs of the same paintings (maybe I’m just not perceptive enough). I don’t know that there is reason for hope, but, even if there isn’t and things will always be more or less as they are now, I know which side I want to be on.

You should buy his book, and try to make an effort to see the paintings themselves. See Chris’s website for details on showings.

An Evening with Greil Marcus featuring a screening of I’m Not There

October 25th, 2008

Greil Marcus will appear at a screening of “I’m Not There” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis on Nov. 1st.

A screenplay: Who Gets to Win?

March 2nd, 2008

I don’t know the correct format for screenplays, so this is just free form.

Camera zooms in on four people playing Scrabble: 3 are modern-day Moneybags types, slick and smooth. The fourth is a little girl.

As is usually done in Scrabble, they take turns putting down words. The little girl puts words like “bunny”, “flower”, and “Mortimer” (her pet rat’s name, but I guess the audience wouldn’t know that) down. All living things. The business guys keep putting the same word down on the Scrabble board: “CO2” (yes, I know that Scrabble doesn’t have “2” tiles). Maybe every time they do this, they also take some Monopoly money out of “the bank”. Maybe not. That might be mixing up games too much.

At any rate, eventually, the rich guys run out of spaces to put down more “CO2″s. So, they start pushing the little girl’s words off the board and adding more “CO2″s.

After a while, they knock over the table holding the Scrabble board and walk away (I guess they got bored). One of them casually pushes over the girl in her chair as he’s walking away. Maybe he walks back and, in an absent-minded manner, picks up the small little girl’s purse that fell out of her pocket, opens it, finds there’s nothing of worth in it, and tosses it aside.

Alex Ross at the Fitzgerald last night

November 8th, 2007

Alex Ross’s appearance at the Fitzgerald with Fred Child and the Turtle Island String Quartet last night was excellent. I wish it could have been twice as long (maybe on successive nights) so he could have covered more of the book.

For example, I wish he could have talked about the “Death Fugue” chapter, which I found especially fascinating. What does it mean when someone like Hitler is an appreciative (and knowledgeable) classical music (or just music, for that matter) fan? They did talk about Shostakovich and Stalin however.

Anyway, the last bit of the talk about the current state of music was excellent and I’m sure very inspiring for young composers. Me, if I were a young composer, I’d want to be a Milton Babbitt “Who Cares If You Listen”-noise rock composer.

Ross is appearing next on Nov. 10 at the Miami Book Fair (details TBA). For more details on the book tour, go here.

Alex Ross at the Fitzgerald

October 23rd, 2007

WHAT: The New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, joins Fred Child, host of American Public Media’s Performance Today®, for an evening of music and conversation, with music provided by the Turtle Island String Quartet.

WHEN: Wednesday, November 7, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E Exchange St, St. Paul

TICKETS: $20; MPR members receive a discount. Contact the Fitzgerald Theater box office at 651-290-1221 or visit

TUNE IN: The event will be recorded for broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio’s Classical Music Service (date TBD).

Alex Ross, one of the leading classical music writers in the country, will join Performance Today host Fred Child for an evening of music and conversation to discuss Ross’ new book, The Rest is Noise. The Turtle Island String Quartet’s famous ability to cross genres will provide a musical complement to Ross’ exploration of the stylistic range of 20th-century music.

With his book, The Rest is Noise, and his blog of the same name, Ross tackles head-on the notion that classical music lives in a vacuum, observing the changing attitudes within the classical music world toward “accessible” music. In a “compulsively readable” style, Ross looks at musicians as diverse as Strauss, Gershwin and Philip Glass, casting their stories against a backdrop of the upheavals of 20th century history.

Together with the avant garde, jazz-infused Turtle Island String Quartet, Ross will discuss the changing trends toward the viability of all musical genres.

About The Rest is Noise

“There seems always to have been a ‘crisis of modern music,’ but by some insane miracle one person finds the way out. The impossibility of it gives me hope.” —Björk

“…[T]his is no plodding history. With his typically lyrical and attentive style, the author presents a lucid, often gripping story of a complex history.” —Kirkus Reviews

Ross’ first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, is a cultural history of music from 1900–2000. Just published, it has already received resounding acclaim, and Ross’s appearances have attracted enthusiastic capacity crowds.

The Rest Is Noise shows why 20th-century composers felt compelled to create a famously bewildering variety of sounds, from the purest beauty to the purest noise,” said Ross. “It tells of a remarkable array of maverick personalities who resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with sweet sounds or battered them with dissonance, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.”

The narrative goes from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the 1920s, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, to downtown New York in the 1960s and ’70s and beyond.

About Alex Ross

Hailed as “the best listener in America” by the New York Observer, Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker since 1996 and his blog, The Rest is Noise, is one of the first stops on the Web for insightful music talk. His work has also appeared in The New Republic, The London Review of Books, Lingua Franca and The Guardian. From 1992 to 1996 he was a critic at The New York Times. He has received two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for music criticism, fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin and the Banff Centre, and a Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center for contributions to the field of contemporary music.

About the Turtle Island String Quartet

Since its inception in 1985, the Turtle Island String Quartet has fused the classical quartet aesthetic with contemporary American musical styles, exploring a world of genres including folk, bluegrass, swing, be-bop, funk, R&B, rock and hip-hop, as well as music of Latin America and India. The group has recorded for the labels Windham Hill, Chandos, Koch and Telarc; contributed soundtracks for major motion pictures, TV and radio credits such as The Today Show, All Things Considered and A Prairie Home Companion; and collaborated with famed artists such as clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, The Manhattan Transfer, pianists Billy Taylor and Kenny Barron, the Ying Quartet and the Parsons Dance Company.

The group’s latest album, “A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane,” explores Coltrane’s repertoire as translated to strings, with a blend of composition and improvisation.

About Fred Child

Fred Child is the host of American Public Media’s Performance Today, the most listened-to classical music radio show in the United States. Child is also the commentator and announcer for Live from Lincoln Center, the only live performing arts series on television. He was the host of NPR’s Creators @ Carnegie and he contributes CD reviews to All Things Considered and his classical music reports appear on Morning Edition and Weekend Edition. He’s been a contributor to Billboard magazine and a commentator for BBC Radio 3.

You Cate believe who is playing Bob Dylan

August 23rd, 2007

Somebody has been listening to The Genuine Basement Tapes.

Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Current Fakebook Series Welcomes Laurie Lindeen”

June 17th, 2007

My girlfriend and I went to this last night.

I’m not up to writing a full review, but:

“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, as performed by Paul was great. (And touching as hell under the circumstances—Laurie was wiping tears from her eyes and clearly she didn’t know ahead of time that Paul would be playing it.)

(Musicals were a recurrent theme of the evening. Besides “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from My Fair Lady, “Till There Was You” from The Music Man was performed (by John Eller).)

Also great was some song with the lyrics “she’s a goddamn angel” and something about her “husband in Hell”. Is this a new Westerberg song? (A Gram Parsons song??)  The lyrics are kind of like an inverted version of the lyrics of the Tim version of “Can’t Hardly Wait”: “I’ll be sad in Heaven/You won’t follow me there”.

Paul and a bunch of others played an awesome (extremely awesome) version of the Stones’ “Loving Cup”. (Paul’s left hand seems to have recovered from the screwdriver-candle-cleaning incident—he played some decent guitar solos on “Loving Cup”.) Paul was totally getting into this song and John Eller played really good keyboards on it.

The Zuzu’s Petals songs were excellent. Laurie was completely happy performing, Linda is an awesome drummer (she played drums for almost everyone that night), and it was fun watching Coleen bop around.

Other than P.W. and Zuzu’s Petals, the main musical highlight was an amazing vocal performance by Lori Barbero (of Babes in Toyland) on some song that I don’t know the name of. Whatever song it was that she played, it was an amazing minimalist arrangement: just distorted, feedbacking guitar, Lori’s vocals, and Lori’s foot slamming down on the bass drum pedal.

Also great was the closing performance of “Daydream Believer” by everybody.

I had my copy of Petal Pusher signed by Laurie after the show. I didn’t want to reveal myself to her as some kind of “Paul worshipper”, so I didn’t say much to her, which I now regret. I could have at least told her that I loved the book.

The Sacbut

June 14th, 2007

Click here if you’re a trombone player.

Bertrand Russell’s Paradox and King Tubby

May 31st, 2007

Does the barber who shaves those and only those people who don’t shave themselves shave himself? Only Zen master King Tubby knows the true answer.