RIP Alex Chilton


I feel like I’m just marking memorials these days. First singer Kate McGarrigle (RIP post here), now Big Star frontman Alex Chilton.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about my surprise at learning that the Alex Chilton I knew for “Thirteen” and “The Ballad of El Goodo” had been a teen idol with The Box Tops. Check out the post and many Youtubes here.

RIP Kate McGarrigle


She seemed so happy: she was going to put the situation out of her mind and drink up the world to her fullest. She travelled back and forth to Europe, she saw my and Martha’s shows, she went on a grand tour of the world, she swam in lakes in the country. She was a true individual, unique.
-[son] Rufus Wainwright

“Swimming Song”
[audio:09%20Swimming%20Song%201.mp3|titles=Swimming Song|artists=Kate & Anna McGarrigle]

Rare Aretha

Rare early footage of my favorite Aretha Franklin song, “One Step Ahead.” She must be about 20 years old here. The video is from before she signed with Atlantic Records, when she was still with Columbia, in the early ’60s.

Mos Def sampled “One Step Ahead” in 1999 for “Ms. Fat Booty” – a bit different feel, but also a great track.

mp3: Aretha Franklin – “One Step Ahead”

mp3: Mos Def – “Ms. Fat Booty”

Found footage, surreal siren

Second in an apparently ongoing series of mine in which I post two things, one of which is a Lady Gaga video.

Like science fiction inspiring the direction of space research, we’ll soon have great video remixing tools to scan and search footage for patterns of dialogue and cadence. And it will all be due to this video:

Plus, as advertised, new over-the-top Lady GaGa. Fimoculous called it: she’s totally the new Matthew Barney. Concert in the Guggenheim? I would fly across the country.

Both via Fimoc.

You’re in high school again (Nirvana)

One of the perks about growing up in Seattle in the 90s was being in the right place at the right time, music-wise. I was a freshman in high school when I went to one particularly legendary rock show — Nirvana’s record release party for Nevermind, held at Beehive records (Peaches) in Seattle.

It was awesome – hundreds of fans jammed into this random record store for the all-ages show – we must have gotten there early because I don’t think I was even ten feet from the band. Things got pretty crazy considering it was in a fluorescent-lit record store at 7:30pm — a mosh pit started up and people were actually crowd surfing in the store.

After the show, the band hung out outside for a while. I got them to sign the flyer for the show, a full-page ad on the back of the Rocket or some other weekly. Krist and Dave were friendly and kidded around with me, Kurt stood back a bit. And then it was over, and time for homework and dinner with my mom. I skipped school a week or so later to go buy the album when it was officially released…and it was 1991, so yes I bought the TAPE.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana at Beehive Records in Seattle, September 16, 1991:

“School” – Nirvana at Beehive Records in Seattle, September 16, 1991:

The story of the show, from a book about Nirvana:

And for diehard grunge fans, footage of the entire concert:


My earliest memories of Michael Jackson’s music, like so many of us, are hard to separate from my earliest memories of music, period. Like every other kid who grew up in the 80s (really, from 1969 onward), I was steeped in it. Michael Jackson WAS pop culture. I moonwalked in front of the mirror. I measured the worth of a jacket by the number of non-functional zippers. Thriller was impossible to escape, and why would you want to?

That album was already a cultural phenomenon by the time I developed some musical awareness, but I remember all the Bad singles coming out one by one, and how captivating the videos were (Smooth Criminal!). My favorite memories of MJ, however, are the hours I spent driving around Montana for a summer job in college. I had a Jeep with a worn-out Jackson 5 tape on repeat, and the songs just kept getting better and better.

One week after his death, there has been an incredible outpouring of Michael Jackson memories and stories. Soul Sides and Allmusic have culled some of the most rewarding writing on MJ so far in a couple of link-heavy posts, and Pitchfork has an immense collection of MJ videos to get lost in.

I’ve been surprised at how much his death affected me. I guess I see him as a tragic figure, a uniquely American story of success and excess, and one of the last links to the now-fading Motown era. An unbelievable package of talent and ambition, driven by himself and others, isolated from normalcy, spiraling into the dark and bizarre. Yet somehow (despite this? because of this?) still able to connect with all of us. Literally, all of us — I’m sure he was the most famous person on the face of the earth. What a strange and rare creature.

I think Michael Jackson biographer Nelson George expresses it well:

Sinner or saint? More apt is artist and sinner. People want to simplify a truly complex life. We have to be sophisticated enough to acknowledge that greatness and a touch of evil dwelled in the man. I’ve always believed that transcendent art emanates from the purest, most evolved parts of our soul. But that highly spiritual achievement doesn’t absolve us of our daily misdeeds. To simply brand him a smooth criminal, as some have, or to overlook his tragic nature, as have others, is to deny his humanity. The meaning of Michael Jackson’s life — as a black man, a sexual being, a abused and abusing adult — will be interpreted to fit the prejudices of the speaker. His music — it speaks volumes.