Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Posts Discussing Country Music

Show Review: Jason Isbell at the Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA. (8/13/15)
Show Review: Stagecoach 2015 (4/28/15)
Show Review: Way Over Yonder Fest Day 1 (9/27/14)
Museum Review: Country Music Hall of Fame (5/21/14)
Stagecoach 2014:  Of beer, trucks & cut-offs and the sublime (4/28/14)
Book Review Meeting Jimmie Rodgers by Barry Mazor (4/15/14)
Book Review: The Roots of Texas Music edited by Lawrence Clayton and Joe Specht (9/13/11)
Show Review: Willie Nelson's Country Showdown (6/24/11)
12 Hrs in Bakersfield California (5/31/11)
Buck Owens and the Bakersfield Sound (5/23/11)
Movie Review: Earl Scruggs- Bluegrass Legend (7/27/10)
Book Review: That Selling Sound by Diane Pecknold (6/5/10)

Margo Price and Country Radio

Margo Price and Country Radio

   I know now that this category of posts is the least popular thing I write about, but writing about Artists and their relationship to various Audiences, popular, critical and professional, is at the heart of this blog, even if it's not something readers are particularly interested in reading about. I did a post last week about how Margo Price's debut LP was the first record to make it onto Billboard's Top Country Albums chart without having ANY prior presence on Billboard's Top Country Singles chart in the history of the Billboard Country chart itself (dating back to 1962).

   Even as I was writing that post there were meetings happening between Margo's management, label and a couple of important radio players.  Obviously, Sirius/XM is the first target, if only because they are the only legitimate target for most of the bands I've written about.  Specifically, Sirius XMUn is the only national radio stations that other bands on this blog can hope to reach.  Margo Price, because she is a country artist, has a wider range of targets, including, importantly, the Highway.  The Highway is among SiriusXM's most popular channels, with "more than 27 million" according to Wikipedia.

  That is a characteristic of the audience for mainstream country music that makes it a favorable one compared to other genres of popular music.  This huge, monolithic audience target is waaaay preferable to the audience for indie rock, radio rock or electronic music.  I think the ease of entry is best explained by the Billboard article about her top 10 chart debut.  One opinion that often comes up when people are talking or writing about country music is that album sales are king, and her speedy integration reflects that wisdom.

  The other initial national radio target for a Country artist is the Iheartradio network.  Iheartradio is a successor to Clear Channel, which had to split itself up as part of an anti trust decision (I think?)  Iheartradio is a network of 300 stations of all genres.  They also do national branding with the Iheartradio App and televised special.  Again, as a target for the other artists I've written about, interfacing with Iheartradio is essentially impossible.   Dirty Beaches is never going to be played on an Iheartradio station.  In the best of situations, for an indie band, you are looking at long odds, even if you sell records.

   The flagship program for the country division of Iheartradio is the Bobby Bones show, which broadcasts from Nashville.  Yesterday, he invited her to the show, via twitter, and that also was the product of a meeting between management, label and network.  But there was nothing nefarious about what happened, and it wasn't some kind of major label conspiracy.  Simply a representative of her label and management, meeting with representatives of Iheartradio at their headquarters.

  I'm not saying either event would have happened without the meeting. My sense is that the amount of attention you get from either entity without a prior understanding of some kind is minimal.  You can get onto a station like SiriusXMU to a limited degree, but you can't get any kind of serious attention.  At the very, very least, both entities want direct access to the Artist on "most favored nations" terms.  This includes interviews and concert appearances at favorable rates.

  I don't think it can be overemphasized that these meeting were scheduled prior to the Billboard article about her chart position, but held after that article was released.  The meetings were organized by her management and her label was directly involved.   Margo Price has accomplished all this firmly within the confines of the Indie record label universe.  I can personally vouch that Third Man Records is a 100% legitimate independent label, with deep pockets of course, but 100% independent.  This success is a success for indie bands everywhere, whatever their genre of music.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Third Policeman (1966) by Flann O'Brien

Flann O'Brien was the third member of the holy trinity of  early to mid20th century experimental Irish literature alongside Joyce and Beckett.
Book Review
The Third Policeman (1966)
 by Flann O'Brien

  The Third Policeman was written by Brian O'Nolan (AKA Flann O'Brien) between 1939 and 1940 but went unpublished until 1966, when his widow got it published after he died.  He told everyone that the manuscript had been lost, at least partially to avoid the shame of not being able to find a publisher, but it turns out it sat on a shelf in his dining room, in plain sight, for some 30 years until he died.

  The significance of The Third Policeman is that you can make a strong case that it was the first fully post-modern novel, leapfrogging the steps that his countryman Samuel Beckett was taking early in his career.  Of course, Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, three years after O'Nolan's widow got The Third Policeman published for the first time, so one can fairly observed that O'Nolan/O'Brien was a generation (20 years) ahead of his time at least.

  O'Brien deploys the full panoply of techniques that became synonymous with post-modern literature.  Most notably, he creates an imaginary "scientist" named De Selby.  The narrator is a De Selby "scholar" and includes multiple page long footnotes about De Selby and his bizarre experiments to prove the "non existence" of night and sleep.  The text plays with conventions of time and space.  For example, the fact that the narrator is dead and living a kind of repetitive hellish existence is not revealed until the end of the book.  Even so the publishers take the added step of adding a letter O'Nolan wrote to William Saroyan when he was trying to get it published in the 1940s.

  For me the pleasure was in the post-modern stylistic flourishes than the main plot of a hell bound repetition of events bound to a guilty conscience.  The plot itself anticipates the deconstruction of Beckett's trilogy- written after The Third Policeman.  When O'Nolan was writing The Third Policeman, Beckett was publishing Murphy.  Murphy is a highly conventional novel that is the "before" in Beckett's evolution to Nobel Prize for Literature winning status.

  Taking all this into account, and like many of Beckett's canonical works, The Third Policeman is not a very fun read, with the notable exception of the "De Selby footnotes."   Because one doesn't learn of the death of the narrator until the end of the book, you can reasonably expect to be confused about what, if anything, is actually happening.  Readers with a background in Joyce and later Beckett will at least have the context in mind, but O'Nolan was really out there.

   It gives me pause to think that this book was not published in the author's lifetime.  O'Nolan wrote this amazing book, and couldn't find a single person to publish it, and gave up.  What is the lesson there? That you can write a canonical work and utterly fail to find an audience.  You can be world class, and still languish in obscurity.  What was even the point?  The author never got to enjoy anything as the result of his efforts.  What is the value of art if it does not benefit the artist?



Book Review: Screamin' Jay Hawkins All Time Hits by Mark Binelli

Screamin' Jay Hawkins All Time Hitts by Mark Binelli comes out on May 3rd 2016,.

Book Review:
Screamin' Jay Hawkins All Time Hits
by Mark Binelli
Metropolitan Books
Published May 3rd, 2016

  Author Mark Binelli writes both fiction and non-fiction.  He published a novel, Sacco and Vincetti Must Die, back in 2002.  In 2006 Detroit City is the Place to Be, a work of non-fiction about his hometown, was published.  In between he's contributed articles to Rolling Stone, where he is a contributing editor, and other publications.

  Screamin' Jay Hawkins All Time Hits treads the line between "creative non-fiction" and regular old literary fiction with a healthy contribution from the well known 33 1/3 series of books about specific albums and musicians.  Binelli has written an account of the life of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, the fifties rocker who is immortal for his hit, I Put a Spell On You.   Hawkins was also in on the ground floor of the mid 50s rock explosion, touring on one of the many package tours put together by radio DJ Alan Freed.

   Anyone with even a passing interest in the 33 1/3 series, early rock history or the idea of "creative non fiction" as a rival to traditional literature is likely to find much to like.  Those more accustomed to a traditional novel may not be as responsive, though it's hard to say that this novel doesn't succeed in exactly what it wants to do.  The only possible complaint might be lack of ambition, but it's not a complaint I would make.

   Screamin' Jay Hawkins All Time Hits is certain to find shelf space in independent book stores all over the country.  Just the title alone should be good for decent sales from people who are browsing at their favorite book store down the street.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Margo Price: 1 Country Radio: 0

Margo Price just made history on the Billboard Country Album chart

This extraordinary information came from

Americana-country singer-songwriter Margo Price’s debut LP, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (Third Man), makes a historic debut on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, arriving at No. 10 with 4,000 sold in its opening week, according to Nielsen Music.  
The launch marks the first time in the history of the chart, which dates to Jan. 8, 1964, that a solo female has debuted in the top 10 with her first charted title without the benefit of any history on the Hot Country Songs ranking. Coming the closest is American Idol season 10 contestantLauren Alaina, whose self-titled album debuted on Top Country Albums at No. 9 the same week (June 11, 2011) that her first Hot Country Songs hit, "Like My Mother Does," bowed on that list at No. 49. (BILLBOARD)
  Here is what is amazing about that information: It is a demonstration of how important radio has been in terms of predicting album sales.  In other words, no female artist in the history of the Billboard Country Albums chart has EVER made a top 10 debut without FIRST having a song chart on the Country Singles chart.  That spans the time period between 1964 and today,  that is more than a HALF CENTURY without any woman getting in the top 10 of the album chart without first being played on country radio.

    This represents a significant shift in the tastes of the country music audience, in that they've shown that they can take a woman on an independent record label, not being played on the radio, into the top 10 of the album chart.  If you know anything about country music, or the business side of the music industry period, it is an extraordinary achievement.


The Passion According to G.H. (1964) by Clarice Lispector

Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian-Jewish author, was the best known female Latin American writer of the 20th centry.  The Passion According to G.H. is her best known book.
Book Review
The Passion According to G.H. (1964)
by Clarice Lispector

  Part Kafka, part Beckett, The Passion According to G.H. is this Brazilian author's best known book.  The Passion According to G.H. takes the form of a monologue by an unnamed protagonist, an unnamed, presumably wealthy, single woman living in a high rise in Rio de Janeiro.  She is cleaning out the quarters of the departed maid, when she finds a cockroach, which she kills, and in the famous denouement, eats.

  Though the cockroach will remind the reader of Kafka, the form of the novel very closely resembles the books of Beckett's trilogy, where action and plot are nearly nonexistent. Lispector earns her place onto the 1001 Books list by virtue of her widely acknolwedged status as, "Best female Latin American writer of the 20th century" but she is also the only female Latin American writer to make it into the 1001 Books list at all, so you could argue that she is there simply to earn diversity points.

  I wasn't particularly taken by The Passion According to G.H., especially so soon after struggling through Beckett's frustrating trilogy of nothing.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Cat's Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut

Author Kurt Vonnegut
Book Review
Cat's Cradle (1963)
 by Kurt Vonnegut

   The two most common routes for an Artist or work of art to obtain a long-term audience is either:
1)   Obtaining critical success, with a popular audience coming at the same time or later.
2)   Obtaining an immediate popular audience, with critical success coming at the same time or later.

  Both routes require that a specific work or artist receive a channel of distribution to either a critical or popular audience.   Historically, obtaining this channel of distribution was the most difficult part facing an Artist seeking to place a work before a wide Audience.  Today, distribution is available to anyone with access to a computer, and it is drawing the attention of EITHER a critical or popular audience that is the main road block to obtaining a lasting audience.

  Genre fiction, be it a romance, science fiction or mystery/detective/thriller, sits at the intersection of these routes to a long term audience.  The popular Audience for genre fiction compared to self-consciously "literary" fiction is enormous.  Traditionally, the appetite by publishers for genre materials was strong, but obtaining a critical audience for that work was close to impossible.  Today, many can and do self-publish genre fiction and find financial success, but I can't think of a single self-published genre author who has obtained a significant critical response of any kind.

   Kurt Vonnegut is notable as an Author who emerged out of the genre ghetto (science fiction) to obtain a lasting popular and critical audience as a writer of literary fiction.  This was not an instant process.  Cat's Cradle, published in 1963, was ignored by non-genre critics (though it did win a Hugo (best science fiction) Award in 1964)  and it was only after the breakthrough success of Slaughterhouse Five, published in 1969, that Cat's Cradle was elevated to it's status as a canonical text.    In other words, Cat's Cradle is an example of a book that received neither a popular nor critical audience when it was initially published.

   And yet today is widely regarded as a canonical text, and Kurt Vonnegut is typically placed just below the top rank of American novelists for his generation.  In recent decades, his popularity has been amplified by the relative popularity of science-fiction with the creators and denizens of the internet.  In terms of the initial delay of recognition by a large, popular audience, the best explanation is that he was "ahead of his time" even as he worked within the confines of a genre (science fiction) that typically dealt with the future.

  He was ahead of his time because he blended non-science fiction themes with settings and plots derived from science fiction.  This is a trait he shares in common with Robert Heinlein, another genre writer who became a canonical author.  Cat's Cradle is mostly set on the fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, where a population that lives in great poverty is ruled over by a pair of American castaways.  One is the island dictator, the other the creator of the island religion, called "Bokonoism."

   Bokonoism is a quintessentially Vonnegut-ian creation, a religion that starts from the premise that all religion is based on lies.  The narrator, a writer alternately referred to as John and Johan is hired to write a story about the (fictional) inventor of the atomic bomb, Felix Hoenikker.  Hoenikker has three children, one of whom is the unlikely Major General of San Lorenzo.  John flies to San Lorenzo in pursuit of his story, and after his arrival typically Vonnegt-ian events begin to pile up, aided by the division of this 200 page book into over a hundred separate chapters.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Master and Margarita (1966) by Mikhail Bulgakov

Woland (the Devil) has a massive black cat called the Behemoth who can walk and talk like a human.
Book Review
The Master and Margarita (1966)
by Mikhail Bulgakov

  The Master and Margarita has one of those quintessential 20th century publication histories, written during the darkest parts of Stalinist rule in Russia between 1928 and 1940, finally published in 1966, and immediately hailed as a lost classic.  Amazingly, prior to publication almost nobody knew The Master and Margarita even existed, despite Bulgarov maintaining a popular and critical audience.  Today, The Master and Margarita is a universally acknowledged classic of Russian literature, with dozens of film, television, theatrical and operatic versions existing in almost every major language.

   The Master and Margarita tells the tale of the Devil arriving in Moscow during the post-revolutionary Soviet period.  Many have argued that Mick Jagger was directly inspired by the opening chapters when he penned the opening verse of Sympathy for the Devil, "Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste.... Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands, and sealed his fate."   The actual plot of The Master and Margarita switches between the Russian present and the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus, with the Devil (called Woland) insisting that he was present in Pilate's palace.

  The Master in the title is not Woland, but a Russian author who has coincidentally written a novel about Pilate's behavior during the crucifixion, a novel which as been barred from publication by the Soviet authorities.  Margarita starts off as The Master's lover, but she is then selected by Woland to serve as his consort at his Midnight Ball.   Before that, Woland arranges for the death of the head of the Moscow literary bureaucracy, and poses as a "black magician" hypnotizing a large audience of Muscovites and convincing them to parade around in the streets naked.


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