Music

205 articles
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When James Brown died on Christmas Day 2006, he left behind a fortune worth tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of dollars. The problem is, he also left behind fourteen children, sixteen grandchildren, eight mothers of his children, several mistresses, thirty lawyers, a former manager, an aging dancer, a longtime valet, and a sister who’s really not a sister but calls herself the Godsister of Soul anyway.

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The making of Blonde on Blonde in Nashville.

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An unhappy mother yearns for a return to her creative roots.

"It seemed to her now like motherhood was a constant fall, a never-ending tumble. After she’d finished her nursery fresco and looked for surprise shapes in her sky, Marlee couldn’t find any meaning in the edges and swirls she had created."

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A young hopeful competes in an international air guitar competition.

"Aki nods sheepishly, says thank you. The American is last year’s champion. He was interviewed on the BBC and does Dr. Pepper commercials now on American television. 'Air Jesus'they call him. He slurps from a can of Sandels Finnish beer. There are contestants from twenty different countries, and each has a nickname. Aki—the Greek—goes by 'Air-istotle.' There’s the Belgian, Hans 'Van Dammage' Van Deer Meer and the Argentinian, Santiago 'Buenos Air-ace' Carrizo. Hirotaka 'Electric Ninja' Kinugasa is representing Japan."

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Dodging bill collectors, a couple stops at a motel on their way to Tennessee.

"See, Faye was an absolute saint of a woman. Kind, funny, understanding to a fault, but she was young, eight years my junior, and she lacked a certain seriousness about her. Everything to her was solvable, temporary, and the gravity of our situation - how much we'd fucked things up, how much we owed, and what a general shit-storm we were in - didn't seem to bother her for a second. Being with her then was like looking down one day and realizing you were sporting a fancy convertible when what you needed was a four-door sedan."

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Tensions eat away at a relationship between a musician and his girlfriend.

"Something in her cadence caught my attention. What if…? I imagined the bass line with a new syncopation, a little shift in the rhythm that might liven the song. I ran the part in my head, but I wanted the instrument in my hands, to be certain. Somehow, Anna had wound up at the pier, although it would have been out of her way."

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A fragile relationship teeters during a family vacation.

"At the restaurant, I enjoy myself for the first time the whole trip: I try fried plantains and sopapillas, washing them down two real margaritas (made from tequila and lime; that’s pretty much it). There is a live band, and Inez pulls Alan up to dance. Her hips have probably never been told no. Erik and I watch from the table. He holds a hand out to me and raises an eyebrow. I shake my head."

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A punk heroin addict navigates 1980s Detroit.

"About an hour later, Harwell and Rollo were squatting (literal) in their squat (figurative) on Broadville, about a mile from the convenience store that had just fallen victim to their considerable wrath. They hadn’t said a word longer than four letters to each other since sprinting away from the Quality Dairy, and for the last thirty minutes they’d been listening for any movement outside, not sure if they’d been followed, or if Chavo and the night manager had enough information about them gathered from their several months of patronage to know where they hung their heads."

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A new boyfriend complicates the creative and personal relationship of two teenage musicians.

"I was asking if she had figured out the fifth part because we had worked on three or four different versions, and John said all our music talk was boring. Kenna looked at him for a second, and I could tell she was annoyed, but she wasn’t going to do anything about it. He was limiting her. The old Kenna might have dumped his Denver Scramble on his head. She just made a face."

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A boy attempts to find common ground with his troubled younger brother.

"Dad glanced at me and his eyes were angry and pointed, but I thought his stern look was the end of it. We pulled into Friedrich a minute later and dropped Tommy off with the other kids in front of the lower school, waiting under the graying sun to be led single-file into classrooms by their teachers. When we got to the middle school carpool, Dad drove right around the circle and back toward the exit without dropping me off. Normally I would’ve been excited at the prospect of being late for school, but as we pulled out onto the main road a thick sense of dread sloshed around in my stomach."

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A melancholic Billy Ray Cyrus on the trauma of being the father of a famous 18-year-old girl, his friendship with Kurt Cobain, and his favorite mullet nicknames (Kentucky Waterfall and Missouri Compromise).

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Scott Storch, a producer who earned six figures for beats he made in less than an hour, was worth an estimated $70 million. Then he blew it all in a bizarre cocaine binge.

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A dying grandmother shares a story about meeting George Harrison.

"I went to my room a little catatonic, in a mixture of religious awe and fascination with my grandmother. I confirmed the information and yes, Rishikesh was that city in India where the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram was, where the Beatles had stayed in the late 1960s and where they had composed a bunch of songs. It was incredible that Gran had managed to associate the song I had played with all that. And remembered the song, and that it was by George, and included herself in the story, to boot."

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After a divorce and in the midst of uncertainty, a woman impulsively buys an old piano.

"And now, X could not even appreciate the simple pleasure of background noise, for she could not play. She sat at the bench and looked at the keys, depressing one here and there, listening to the soft gasps of noise that vibrated from the strings inside the Steinway. She tumbled a few notes together; they sounded like little coughs, a disease she was uncertain of how to cure. She ran her hand over the smooth ebony finish; it reminded her of her pediatric patients, bubbled mounds of clay cherubs who had not yet been pulled like taffy into their angled adulthood."

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From the latest winner of the National Book Award for Fiction: a former nun's infatuation with classical music leads to unexpected connections and actions.

" At any rate, she played Chopin. Played him in utter naturalness until the Mother Superior was forced to shut the cover to the keyboard and gently pull the stool away. Cecellia lifted the lid and played upon her knees. The poor scandalized dame dragged her from the keys. Cecellia crawled back. The Mother, at her wit's end, sank down and urged the young woman to pray. She herself spoke first in fear and then in certainty, saying that it was the very Devil who had managed to find a way to Cecellia's soul through the flashing doors of sixteenth notes. Her fears were confirmed when, not moments later, the gentle sister raised her arms and fists and struck the keys as though the instrument were stone and from the rock her thirst would be quenched. But only discord emerged."

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Reverse engineering the details of a murder that took place in St. Louis on Christmas Night in 1895 from over a century of popular song.

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“If I had been a straight-A student my whole life and had rapped about Jesus coming back to save us all, I wouldn’t get no media. The motherfuckers wouldn’t give a fuck about me. But since I’m telling the truth, and been through what I’m stressing and know what I’m talking about, I’m a threat.”

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An oral history of the Dr. Dre album.

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Trevell Coleman wasn’t sure whether he’d killed a man. But after 17 years, he needed to find out.

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The Grateful Dead’s afterlife.

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A profile of Spears at her nadir.

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A field report from Electric Daisy Carnival, a three-night bacchanal in the Las Vegas desert attended by “100,000 wasted hedonists scantily dressed in furry underwear.”

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How a loathsome band makes gobs of money.

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The rise of One Direction fanfiction that imagines the band members in relationships – with each other.

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A profile of RZA, hip-hop artist and kung fu film director.

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Forty years after its release, the story of “Free to Be… You and Me.”

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On Bruce Springsteen’s song, and growing up in a factory town.

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Grizzly Bear and the surprisingly crappy economics of indie rock stardom.

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On the rise of K-pop.

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A profile of the legendary producer at the beginning of his career.

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The legacy of late hip-hop producer Paul C.

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An interview with Cobain a few months after the release of In Utero.

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At 66, Young sobers up.

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Inside the cluttered Los Angeles apartment of lo-fi auteur Ariel Pink.

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An instrument’s impact on a handful of Texans.

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On the road with the makeup-clad band.

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An essay on Jay-Z.

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Inside FSU, the hardcore brotherhood where the wrong t-shirt can get you killed.
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A profile of Scooter Braun.

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The rock critic’s lasting impact.

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A profile of Chan ‘Cat Power’ Marshall adrift in Miami.

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A profile of Merle Haggard.

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When the Rolling Stones played Altamont.

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A profile of Bruce Springsteen.

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Watching the jazz singer in New York.

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David Johnson’s unrequited correspondence with Jay-Z.

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Meeting Nick Drake, London, 1970.

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On jazz and the hipster psychopath.

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The spiritual union of Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin.

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The director on Obama, the state of black cinema, the Knicks, the Nets, the tragedy of public education in America, gentrified New York and why he lives on the Upper East Side.

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A veteran critic reviews 32 shows in 30 days.

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On trying out for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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On the surprising radicalism of library music – “music that has been composed and recorded for commercial purposes.”

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An interview with Pavement’s Bob Nastanovich on his career afterlife as a “a clocker and chart-caller” and occasional breeder at an Iowa race horse track.

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Listening to the Big Star songwriter, who left the group before dying in a solo car crash at 27.

His voice, on the recordings, is too sensitive. That's meant not as an aesthetic judgment. It wasn't too sensitive for the material, in other words. It was too sensitive for life. You listen to him sing, closely, and if you don't know another thing about what happened to him, you know that the guy with that voice is not going to last.

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On the road with three high school show choirs and a dream.

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One night in Newark with Chris Christie and Bruce Springsteen.

“No one is beyond the reach of Bruce!” he screams over the noise of the crowd, and then screams it again, to make sure I understand: “No one is beyond the reach of Bruce!”

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The bizarre story of the disappearance of “downtown legend” John Lurie after a former friend resolved to take his life.

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A profile of Fiona Apple.

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The people behind San Francisco’s Summer of Love.

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A profile of fashion designer Nudie Cohn, who made clothing for Elvis, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, and others.

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A profile of the Against Me! frontman.

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On tour with America’s first 50-year-old rock band.

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A profile of the singer as he returns to the stage for the first time in a dozen years.

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A profile of singer-songwriter Will Oldham.

He has settled into character as an uncanny troubadour, singing a sort of transfigured country music, and he has become, in his own subterranean way, a canonical figure. Johnny Cash covered him, Björk has championed him (she invited him to appear on the soundtrack of “Drawing Restraint 9”), and Madonna, he suspects, has quoted him (her song “Let It Will Be” seems to borrow from his “O Let It Be,” though he says, “I’m fully prepared to accept that it’s a coincidence”).

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A posthumous profile of Whitney Houston.

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“Being Justin Bieber means having an endless number of T-shirts to destroy.” A profile of the pop star just after his 18th birthday.

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With flash, hip-hop echoes rock’s golden age.

When rock was at its peak in 1972, Americans earning the equivalent of $1m a year took just over 1 per cent of national income. In 2010, this group’s share of national income had grown to almost 10 per cent. At the same time, the average tax paid by these top earners almost halved. The rise of Jay-Z’s “new black elite” reflects the growth in numbers of the super-wealthy. But the opulence that he and West flaunt also reflects the growing estrangement of those at the top from the rest.

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“There was no Delta blues before there were cheap, readily available steel-string guitars. And those guitars, which transformed American culture, were brought to the boondocks by Sears, Roebuck & Co.”

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A look at Chicago’s DJ culture in the ’90s.

One day in 1997, Sneak promised his friend and fellow Chicago DJ Derrick Carter a new 12-inch for Carter's label Classic, then spent hours fruitlessly laboring over a basic, bustling four-four beat. Finally, Sneak gave in and smoked the J he'd had stashed for later in the day. When he came back inside, he carelessly dropped the needle onto a Teddy Pendergrass LP, heard the word "Well . . . ," and realized, "That's the sample, right there." He threaded Pendergrass's 20-year-old disco hit "You Can't Hide From Yourself" through a low-pass filter to give it the effect of going in and out of aural focus, creating one of the definitive Chicago house singles.

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The Beastie Boys on tour in Los Angeles shortly after the release of their debut album, Licensed to Ill.

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A free-ranging conversation between music writers Simon Reynolds and Greil Marcus.

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The story of a bizarre—and bizarrely effective—smear campaign.

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A childhood spent with the oboe.

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At 67, the American Bandstand icon remains “one hard-working mother.”

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Neal punctuated Jack’s riffing with his “yesses” and “that’s rights,” head bobbing on his neck like a novice prizefighter’s. After four years of New York nihilism and intellection, Neal – wiping Jack’s face with his handkerchief – Neal – who looked so much like Jack himself, an athlete like Jack – celebrated lover of women and sharer of Allen’s passionate dark soul – finally the long-lost brother who said, “Go ahead, everything you do is great” – “a Western kinsmen of the sun” – “a wild yea-saying over-burst of American joy.”

The life and myth of Neal Cassady, Beat companion and muse for Kesey, Wolfe, Kerouac, Ginsberg, The Grateful Dead and more.

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On singer-songwriters Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks.

I get the sense that the labels' attitude toward these guys wasn't altogether different from a parent's attitude toward gifted children: Get them through the system, but make sure to give them a clean little corner to doodle in and pat them on the head when they show you what they've done, whether you understand it or not.

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On the road with the band:

Axl Rose is carrying on like an Apache. He stormed into his home state for a concert and compared the fans there to prisoners at Auschwitz. He showed up two hours late for a New York show and launched into a tirade against his record company and various other institutions, including this magazine. He steamrolled into St. Louis, and before he left town, a riot had broken out. During an encore in Salt Lake City, he got ticked off because the Mormons weren't rocking and said, "I'll get out of here before I put anybody else to sleep." Then he did.

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A profile of Kanye West.

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A profile from his days living as a mountain monk in Southern California.

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A history of the cell phone ringtone.

Many recent hip-hop songs make terrific ringtones because they already sound like ringtones. The polyphonic and master-tone versions of “Goodies,” by Ciara, for example, are nearly identical. Ringtones, it turns out, are inherently pop: musical expression distilled to one urgent, representative hook. As ringtones become part of our environment, they could push pop music toward new levels of concision, repetition, and catchiness.

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He’s their hero, but he’s also their soulmate, the one person in the world who understands them. That’s why Stephen Wesley and the legions of fans like him can’t get enough of the Mountain Goats. And that burden is crushing Darnielle.

On the passionate relationship between fans and John Danielle of the Mountain Goats.

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Delivered at the Austin Convention Center on March 15, 2012.

In the beginning, every musician has their genesis moment. For you, it might have been the Sex Pistols, or Madonna, or Public Enemy. It's whatever initially inspires you to action. Mine was 1956, Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was the evening I realized a white man could make magic, that you did not have to be constrained by your upbringing, by the way you looked, or by the social context that oppressed you. You could call upon your own powers of imagination, and you could create a transformative self.

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How a hit Rihanna single gets made.

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A profile.

When we're introduced, I spend a long moment trying to conjugate the reality of James Brown's face, one I've contemplated as an album-cover totem since I was thirteen or fourteen: that impossible slant of jaw and cheekbone, that Pop Art slash of teeth, the unmistakable rage of impatience lurking in the eyes. It's a face drawn by Jack Kirby or Milton Caniff, that's for sure, a visage engineered for maximum impact at great distances, from back rows of auditoriums.

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On Abbey Road studios, the Beatles, and modern record production.

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In 1963, William Zantzinger was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Hattie Carroll and then immortalized – and somewhat defamed – by Bob Dylan. What’s he been up to since then?

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Searching for the reclusive band’s studio in Düsseldorf.

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Stylistically speaking, in terms of clothing, they arrived in shirts and pants and shoes (there’s really no other way to say it). They had haircuts, but it didn’t really look it. While other bands were mumbling or over-enunciating their dreary positions or penny-candy philosophies, Pavement kind of screamed for a generation. But they did it in a way that was so deeply American that it was almost Scandinavian.

Playwright Will Eno profiles the band and their cult as they grow up and prepare for a reunion.

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On Jonny Greenwood:

Greenwood is an anomaly: a musician who made his name with a rock band and who is now embraced by the modern-music establishment as an actual, serious composer. The night before the Alvernia session, he was onstage in an aircraft-hangar-size room at a steel plant in Krakow, performing the minimalist composer Steve Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint” for an audience that included Reich himself, as part of a weeklong new-music festival, Sacrum Profanum. (Reich is a fan; he praises Greenwood’s decision to have the string section play with guitar picks on “Popcorn Superhet” as “the first new approach to pizzicato since Bartok.”) He wasn’t the only performer at Sacrum Profanum with pop-music credentials — the bill also included the techno provocateur Aphex Twin and Adrian Utley, from the trip-hop band Portishead. But he was the only guy from a superfamous rock band whose singer has appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone.

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A profile of Suge Knight, 29 and the C.E.O. of Death Row Records, before the deaths of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.

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The artist discusses her latest record, Biophilia, science and music education. 

Up until she developed a vocal-cord nodule a few years ago, Björk made a point of not investigating how that instrument worked. “With arrangements and lyrics,” she says, squinting over her coffee, “I work more with the left side of my brain. But my voice has always been very right brain. I didn’t try to analyze it at all. I didn’t even know until I started all this voice work, two years ago, what my range was. I didn’t want to let the academic side into that—I worried the mystery would go.”

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On House Xtravaganza and the life and death of its house mother Angie Xtravaganza, one of the stars of the documentary Paris is Burning, which brought vogueing and New York City’s transgendered ball culture into the spotlight.

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Leonard Cohen’s 2 A.M. set at the disastrous Isle of Wight festival, 1970.

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An interview with a young star.

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As the hip-hop group Odd Future rose to fame, their sixteen-year-old breakout star Earl Sweatshirt mysteriously disappeared.

(After a stretch at a school in Samoa, he seems to have reappeared yesterday.)

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On the Balkan musical genre Turbo-Folk, its ties to Serbian ultranationalism, and the strongman nightclub owner who brought it to Croatia.

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A history of Soul Train’s Chi-town origins.

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A fifteen year history of the music site Pitchfork detailing its prescient take on the relationship between culture and consumption.

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On Patti Smith.

It was easy for lazy journalists to caricature her as a stringbean who looked like Keith Richards, emitted Dylanish word salads, and dropped names—a high-concept tribute act of some sort, very wet behind the ears. But then her first album, Horses, came out in November 1975, and silenced most of the scoffers.

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"I don't know if I was as angry as much as I was misunderstood.  A lot of the things we did contained a lot of humor that went over people's heads."
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The main thing that attracts me to Buddhism is probably what attracts every artist to being an artist—that it’s a godlike thing. You are the ultimate authority. There is no other ultimate authority. Now, for some artists that’s difficult, because they want to have the art police. They want to have the critic who hands out tickets and says, “That’s too loose.”
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A memory of interviewing the late great songwriter Townes Van Zandt shortly before his death.

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A profile.

Because business ebbs and flows with the seasons and the economy, Holmes, who lives in Upper Marlboro, has always kept a variety of sidelines, including a job driving a limousine for nine years to put his oldest daughter through a private high school and college. These days, at gigs, he hands out a stack of million-dollar "bills" printed with his image and his current enterprises: bandleader, commercial mortgage broker, hard money lender (slogan: "Hard Money with a Soft Touch").

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A profile of Carrie Brownstein, riot grrrl and creator of Portlandia.

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A profile of John Williams.

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Now 85, Berry still records live music. He just doesn’t want you to hear it.

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Paul Simon’s Graceland at 25.

The Paul Simon who, on a bus en route to New York City told his sleeping girlfriend that he was empty and aching and he didn’t know why, that Simon belongs to our parents. My generation may love him but he’s not ours. The Simon who is soft in the middle (or at least feels an affinity for men who happen to be), however, the one who reminds young women of money, who has been divorced and has a kid to prove it, and who has the means to catch a cab uptown and take it all the way downtown talking dispassionately while doing so about the comings and goings of breakdowns, that Simon belongs to us as much as he does to our folks because he is our folks.

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The tiny, insular Tehran rap scene.

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Tracking down 40-odd members of the British band.

It's a Tuesday morning in December, and I'm ringing people called Brown in Rotherham. "Hello," I begin again. "I'm trying to trace Jonnie Brown who used to play in the Fall. He came from Rotherham and I wondered if you might be a relative." "The Who?" asks the latest Mr Brown. "No. The Fall - the band from Salford. He played bass for three weeks in 1978." "Is this some kind of joke?"

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A few years ago, before anyone knew his name, before rap artists from all over the country started hitting him up for music, the rap producer Lex Luger, born Lexus Lewis, now age 20, sat down in his dad’s kitchen in Suffolk, Va., opened a sound-mixing program called Fruity Loops on his laptop and created a new track... Months later, Luger — who says he was “broke as a joke” by that point, about to become a father for the second time and seriously considering taking a job stocking boxes in a warehouse — heard that same beat on the radio, transformed into a Waka song called “Hard in da Paint.” Before long, he couldn’t get away from it.
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On the increasing tension between the pleasant, thoughtful indie rock of car commercials and those who insist on something weirder.

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An excerpt from a new oral history of MTV.

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An orgy of free song-sharing seems to be exactly the kind of thing that the horrified labels would quickly clamp down on. But they appear to be starting to accept that their fortunes rest with the geeks. Or at least they’re trying to talk a good game. “I’m not part of the past—I’m part of the future,” says Lucian Grainge, chair and CEO of the world’s biggest label, Universal Music Group. “There’s a new philosophy, a new way of thinking.”
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GQ: Your relationship with your biological father seems complicated. Lil Wayne: He don't give a shit about me. And I don't give a shit about him. I know his friends be like, "Damn, nigga. That is not your son. Stop lying. Nigga, you could be living in a motherfucking ranch right now, nigga." You know, whatever your father's into, if you're rich, you're gonna get him that shit. I would've got that nigga all kinda harnesses, ranches—you know what I mean? I saw the nigga recently—I had a show in New Orleans. And I ain't afraid to put this out there, 'cause this is just how much I don't give a fuck about a nigga, and I want people to see how you're not supposed to be. I was parked at the hotel, and I saw him walking outside the hotel. Just walking back and forth. I'm like, "Look at this nigga! You gotta be looking for me." If Lil Wayne got a show in New Orleans, the whole of New Orleans knows. Basically, you're not there for nothing else but me. So I call my man on the bus. I'm like, "Nigga, that's my daddy." He's like, "Word? Oh shit. That nigga looks just like you!" So I tell my man, "Go see what's up." So my man goes to holla at him. He tells my man, "Oh. I didn't know y'all was here. I'm here waiting for this little ho to get o¬ff. Get off¬ work from the hotel." For real? That's when I was like, "Typical Dwayne Carter." So that's what's up with me and my real father. I don't want to look like his ass, but I do.
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On the business of Muzak.

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A profile of Hank Williams III.

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Gainsbourg decked out his home at 5 Rue de Verneuil in Saint Germain all in black, inspired by a time when he was younger when he'd somehow got the keys to Salvador Dali's house and made love to his first wife in every room while Dali was away. He even stole a small token souvenir in the form of a picture from Dali's porn collection. (Serge was obsessed with Dali and the pair later became friends. The title of 'Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus' - roughly translated as 'I love you, me neither' - was inspired by something Dali was once supposed to have said: "Picasso is Spanish - so am I; Picasso is a genius - so am I; Picasso is a communist - me neither.")
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A profile of the R.E.M. frontman.

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Rick Ross was born William Leonard Roberts II in 1976, and he borrowed his stage name (and the associated big-time cocaine-selling hustler persona) from the legendary L.A. drug lord Freeway Ricky Ross. But the website MediaTakeout uncovered a photograph of William Leonard Roberts II when he was a Florida corrections officer. Most people thought that'd be the end of his career. Freeway Ricky Ross then sued him for stealing his name. None of it mattered. Rick Ross the rapper just sold more records.
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An interview with Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone writer Vanessa Grigoriadis on the finer points of celebrity profiling.

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"At the end of the cycle of Morning Glory, I was hailed as the greatest songwriter since Lennon and McCartney," Gallagher recalls. "Now, I know that I'm not, and I knew I wasn't then. But the perception of everybody since that period has been, 'What the fuck happened to this guy? Wasn't he supposed to be the next fucking Beatles?' I never said that I was the greatest thing since Lennon and McCartney … well, actually, I'm lying. I probably did say that once or twice in interviews. But regardless, look at it this way: Let's say my career had gone backwards. Let say this new solo album had been my debut, and it was my last two records that sold 20 million copies instead of the first two records. Had this been the case, all the other albums leading up to those last two would be considered a fucking journey. They would be perceived as albums that represent the road to greatness. But just because it started off great doesn't make those other albums any less of a journey. I'll use an American football analogy since we're in America: Let's say you're behind with two minutes to go and you come back to tie the game. It almost feels like you've won. Right? But let's say you've been ahead the whole game and you allow the opponent to tie things up in the final two minutes. Then it feels like you've lost. But the fact of the matter is it's still a fucking tie. The only difference is perception. And the fact of the matter is that Oasis sold 55 million records. If people think we were never good after the '90s, that's irrelevant."
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An oral history of Aaliyah.

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Another look at a popular myth.

For the longest time blues fans didn’t even know what their hero looked like—in 1971, a music magazine even hired a forensic artist to make a composite sketch based on various first-hand accounts—until two photos of Robert Johnson finally came to light.  The dapper young man pictured in the most famous photo, dressed in a stylish suit and smiling affably at the camera, hardly looks like a man who has sold his soul to Lucifer.

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An oral history of James Brown, from Macon to the top.

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A profile of the reclusive musician.

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An oral history.

Tom Freston: We knew we needed a real signature piece that would look different from everything else on TV. We also knew that we had no money. So we went to NASA and got the man-on-the-moon footage, which is public domain. We put our logo on the flag and some music under it. We thought that was sort of a rock ’n’ roll attitude: “Let’s take man’s greatest moment technologically, and rip it off.”

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"Jaye and I decided we didn’t want to have children. But we still got that urge to blend, to merge and become one. I think the heart of a lot of the romance in couples, whatever kind of couple they are, is that they want to both just be each other, to consume each other with passion. So we wanted to represent that. First we did it by dressing alike. Then we started to do minor alterations to our bodies. Then we decided that we would try as hard as we could to actually look like each other in order to strengthen and solidify that urge."
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A profile of the late singer.

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A youth set to the shifting sounds of CCM, Christian Contemporary Music:

This, by the way, is considered the ultimate sign of quality CCM, even amongst Christians: the ability to pass as secular. Every band’s goal was to have teenagers stop their grooving mid-song and exclaim, like a soda commercial actress who’s just realized she’s been drinking Diet, “Wait, this is Christian?”

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Is the streaming Swedish music service, now making its U.S. debut, the best shot the industry has at staying profitable and relevant?

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How a musical subculture evolved alongside a technological subculture:

Rave's rise mirrors the Web's in many ways. Both mixed rhetorical utopianism with insider snobbery. Both were future-forward "free spaces" with special appeal to geeks and wonks.

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A sit-down with Ms. Franklin.

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Uncovering Southern California’s country music roots.

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A profile of new Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard, who in another life was a touring musician and hated Ticketmaster just like everyone else.

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A profile of Justin Timberlake:

This need to succeed, to become his generation’s multi-talented Sammy Davis Jr., is part of what makes him appealing to filmmakers. “I needed someone who could be a Frank Sinatra figure, someone who could walk into the room and command all the attention,” says David Fincher, of casting Timberlake as Sean Parker, the Facebook investor and rogue, in The Social Network. “I didn’t want someone who would just say, ‘I know how to play groovy.’ You can’t fake that stuff. That’s the problem with making movies about a rock star—actors have spent their lives auditioning and getting rejected, and rock stars haven’t.”

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Interviews with the band while “struggling to finish their very latefellow LP, a trouble child, called Rumours.”

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It is a story that seems almost impossible to believe: a group of female convicts, few of whom had ever played a musical instrument or taken voice lessons, forming a country and western band and becoming, at least in Texas, the Dixie Chicks of their day.
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A profile of the late Gil-Scott Heron.

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TM The only other time I saw you was in Bleecker Bob’s in the ‘70s. You walked in eating pizza and wearing aviator glasses and Bleecker Bob showed you an Ian Dury picture sleeve and you said, “I don’t listen to music by people I don’t wanna fuck.” PS (laughter) Yeah, that was me.
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The rise and fall of “Rock Around the Clock” singer Bill Haley.

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Joyce Hatto, unknown to even the most ardent classical music collectors until late in her life, released a string of incredible performances of great works, distributed by her husband’s mail-order CD business. But how was it possible for her to record difficult works at such a dizzying rate? And if wasn’t her playing, who was it?

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Ah yes, you should also know that most of your colleagues are some of the biggest neurotics in the country, so you might as well get used right now to the way they're gonna be writing you five and ten page single spaced inflammatory letters reviling you for knocking some group that they have proved is the next Stones.
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When I hear music as a fan, I see fields. I see landscapes. I close my eyes and see an entire universe that that music and the voice, or the narrative, create. A music video-and any other kind of visual reference-is created by someone else. For me, as a music fan, visuals kind of steal away the purity of the song.
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A profile of Hole lead singer Courtney Love.

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An essay on music and family, sparked by the author’s realization that his speakers sucked.

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An interview with Heart guitarist and film composer Nancy Wilson.

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On the producer Timbaland, then best known for collaborations with Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, and Ginuwine.

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The birth of the Beastie Boys—an oral history on the 25th anniversary of Licensed to Ill.

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On what you do when you can do whatever what you want.

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A review/interview/profile:

Let's settle on the bald facts: Eminem has secured his place in the rap pantheon.

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A decade later, on the then twenty-three-year-old Van Morrison’s 1968 album Astral Weeks.

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Reposted after it was pulled by The Atlantic:
How the little known $50/bottle champagne Antique Gold became the $300/bottle Armand de Brignac that Jay-Z "happened upon in a wine shop" and then featured in a video.
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On the many lives and careers of Owsley Stanley (1935-2011), chemist, sound design innovator, and outback jeweler, whose name appears in the OED as a synonym for “a particularly pure form of LSD.”

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An oral history of the Strokes.

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“By the time we got to Woodstock 99 …” In a grim finale, the nineties get their Altamont.

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Six months after playing an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival, a rambling Dylan holds forth on style, songwriting, and fame. “People have one great blessing—obscurity—and not really too many people are thankful for it.”

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“You’re either with Korn and Limp Bizkit, or you’re against them.” The birth of nu-metal.

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A trip to Kingston, Jamaica to track down Bunny Wailer, a reggae legend now living “in his own private Zion.”

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On Sam Cooke, theme parties, and the importance of McDonald’s-related jingles when street performing.

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On the young and ascendant Frank Sinatra, “who ruled crowds by seductive magnetism and surrounded himself with courtiers, but had once been an adolescent alone in his room listening to Bing Crosby on his Atwater-Kent.”

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Here’s what I really want to do at 32: fuck a girl and then, as she’s sleeping in bed, make breakfast for her. So she’s like, “What? You gave me five vaginal orgasms last night, and you’re making me a spinach omelet? You are the shit!” So she says, “I love this guy.” I say, “I love this girl loving me.” And then we have a problem.
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From 1968-1973, the three teenage Wiggins sisters, guided by a domineering father, played their strange music at New Hampshire ballrooms and recorded a single album. The Philosophy of the World LP goes for over $500 today, but the intervening decades were not kind to the Wiggins’.

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Walter Benjamin, mp3s, and what collecting says about us.

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A profile of Winona Ryder.

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A profile of Chicago soul great Syl Johnson.

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Jay-Z on his new book Decoded, his parents’ record collection, and the real reason rappers have a tendency to grab their junk on stage.

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On the mysterious life story of blues icon Blind Willie Johnson and a half-century of attempts to fill in the blanks.

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A profile of of Courtney Love.

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“I hate classical music: not the thing but the name. It traps a tenaciously living art in a theme park of the past. It cancels out the possibility that music in the spirit of Beethoven could still be created today.”

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A single-page version of Shalhoup’s reporting on the Black Mafia Family, one of the largest cocaine empires in American history.

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Featuring the debut of the “Ghost Sex Defense.”

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The “Shaggy Defense,” the “Little Man Defense,” and more—live from R. Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial.

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Four years after a disastrous MTV performance had led him to avoid the public, Rose was back on stage.

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In this profile of the band, William Burroughs is interested in two things: big-time rock shows and random conversational tangents.

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Scenes from Madonna’s first major tour and an author struggling to explain the 26-year-old’s massive, surging appeal.

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A profile of Kanye West written in the style of an all-access magazine piece - using only quotes and statements that Kanye West has made on Twitter and other web outlets.

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Horror-rap’s annual festival draws thousands of clown-makeup wearing Juggalos - devotees of Insane Clown Posse - for a weekend devoted to spraying Faygo soda, rioting, and discussions of the occult.

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When Bob Dylan met Allen Ginsberg; a chapter from Sean Wilentz’s forthcoming Bob Dylan in America.

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In the early 1960s, Middle Eastern guys in Brooklyn introduced America to Arabic rock-and-roll.

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A new Egyptian TV channel called 4Shbab—“for youth” in Arabic—aims to get young people interested in Islam through music videos and reality shows.

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An interview with Greil Marcus on the songs of Van Morrison and why people are afraid of imagined things.

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There is someone whose job it is to try to extract royalty money from anyone who plays music in a place of business. Most people do not react well to this request.

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The forgotten life of Eva Tanguay, perhaps America’s first rock star.

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Vignettes of the residents of South Elliot Place.

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In March of 1991, Vanilla Ice had the #1 album in the country (To the Extreme), a movie about to be released (TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze), and a dogged belief that his 15 minutes weren’t about to end.

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An interview with New Yorker critic Alex Ross about his book The Rest is Noise and why there’s really no such thing as “classical music.”

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The story of the most popular music video of all time, including memories of a then-25-year-old Michael Jackson on and off the set. Director John Landis: “I dealt with Michael as I would have a really gifted child.”

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Born in Germany, raised in Montana, now living in New York, comedian Reggie Watts describes his style as “culture sampling.”

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In need of a new lead singer, Journey settled on an unknown 40-year-old from the Philippines whose clips they found online. Arnel Pineda was perfect: just a small-town boy, living in a lonely world.

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The contradiction-rich world of Maya Arulpragasam.

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Lou Pearlman, the guy responsible for the Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync, bilked his investors of $300 million and fled the country. But the boys say he was interested in more than just money.

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The where-are-they-now stories of MC Ren, DJ Scatch, Sir Jinx, Kid Disaster, Candyman, and everyone else on the cover of 1987’s N.W.A. and the Posse.

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Karaoke renditions of ‘My Way’ have led to murders in the Phillipines.

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How did a pair of young rappers from Scotland, laughed off the stage for their accents, land a deal with Sony and start partying with Madonna? They pretended to be American.

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During the 90s, David Bazan was Christian indie-rock’s first big crossover star. Then he stopped believing.

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From Stefani Joanne Germanotta to Lady Gaga: the self-invented, manufactured, accidental, totally on-purpose creation of the world’s biggest pop star.

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As labels big and small attempt to gain traction in the world’s largest market, they’re learning that selling pop is never simple in the epicenter of piracy.