Posts Tagged ‘Billy Joe Shaver’
Nathan Rabin (source)
There’s a wonderful line in the musical Passing Strange where narrator Stew wistfully remarks, “It’s weird when you wake up one morning and realize that your entire adult life was based on the decision of a stoned teenager.” In sharp contrast my entire adult life as a music critic was based on a casual decision made as a 21-year-old.
Sometime in spring 1998, my editor, Stephen Thompson, held up a copy of the Bulworth soundtrack and said, “Hey, Nathan, you like hip-hop. Do you want to review this for us?” I was at the time deep into my third sophomore or second junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was eager to make a name for myself at The A.V. Club. I gleefully acquiesced. The paper needed a hip-hop writer. I needed to be needed. I had found a niche.
It was a natural fit. Hip-hop was the music that spoke most directly to me. It was the music I’d run home to listen to on Yo! MTV Raps and The Box after a long day of playing hooky. It was the music we gravitated toward in the group home where I grew up, the culture that spoke angrily and provocatively toward our collective anxieties, fantasies, and desires. It was the soundtrack of my tortured adolescence and marginally less tortured adulthood.
Volunteering to review the Bulworth soundtrack helped determine my musical diet for the next 11 years. Since that fateful day, I’ve listened overwhelmingly to hip-hop for personal as well as professional reasons. Huge rock acts have almost completely passed me by. I’ve never really listened to a White Stripes album. The last Radiohead album I was into was The Bends.
Throughout the years, I’ve fantasized about correcting my wildly unbalanced musical education by spending a year immersing myself in a foreign genre. (Yes, that is what critics fantasize about. That and elaborate new ways to file their CD and DVD collections.) I daydreamed about correcting the lopsided nature of my musical education by pulling a massive 180 in my listening habits. Instead of listening overwhelmingly to only one genre of music, I’d do something completely different and listen overwhelmingly to a different genre.
While listening to Billy Joe Shaver’s “Been To Georgia On A Fast Train” earlier this year, I had an epiphany. I decided that now was as good a time as any to put my plan into action. As the great Jewish philosopher Hillel famously asked, “If not now, when? If I am not for myself then who will be? And if I am only for myself than what am I?” I’m fairly certain Rabbi Hillel was talking specifically about ambitious yearlong online country-oriented projects on pop-culture websites. That is impressive, considering Hillel died several thousand years ago. In accordance with his final wishes, Hillel’s corpse was slathered with horseradish, wine, nutmeg, apples, and nuts, then buried between giant pieces of matzo.
This year, I decided to stop dreaming about pursuing a super-intense yearlong crash course in country, and start doing it. Inspired by Noel Murray’s Popless series [which your correspondent also heartily recommends], I will, over the next year, immerse myself in the sum of country music, the good, the bad, and the creamy middle, and write a series of long, rambling, freeform essays about my musical odyssey deep into the heart of a vital, oft-maligned sector of American music.
And so, with results both enormously entertaining and eminently enlightening, he has. From Loretta Lynn and Garth Brooks to Merle Haggard and k.d. laing, he listens– really listens.
Readers might dip into his essay on the extraordinary Lyle Lovett, “illustrated” with videos of the examples Rabin discusses…
Or, for a more esoteric– indeed, even exotic– treat, readers might consider “The Louvin Brothers’ tragic songs of Satan’s realness” (again, punctuated with audio tracks of the tunes discussed).
The rewards (and pleasures) of accompanying Rabin on his journey are plenty… but the real pay-off is the example it sets– an object lesson in discovering the riches that lie beyond the horizon lines of our habits:
…I am striking a forceful blow against the tyranny of essays written by people who “know what they’re talking about” and “aren’t completely ignorant.” I will be writing not as an expert, but as a passionate amateur. Isn’t that what all critics are? We just participate in the culturally mandated charade of being experts because it flatters our fragile egos. Ultimately, William Goldman’s famous aphorism about Hollywood—”Nobody knows anything”—holds true for the rest of entertainment as well. As the co-screenwriter of Dreamcatcher, Goldman knows an awful lot about not knowing anything.
I am going into this project full of idealism and hope. I’ve devoted much of my life and career to writing about subjects dismissed, demonized, and/or reviled by big segments of the population: cinematic flops, direct-to-DVD movies, silly little show-biz books, gangsta rap, pop-rap, and now country music. I am fueled by curiosity and an utterly uncharacteristic sense of optimism…
“Curiosity and an utterly uncharacteristic sense of optimism”– an altogether appropriate recipe for our times.
As we agree with Charlie Parker, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 the “the British Invasion” began in earnest, as the Beatles landed (at Idlewild Airport in New York) for their first American tour.
The British retake America (source)…
…while airport police struggle to manage the crowd (source)
15 July 1972, Billerica, MA — Don Stover was a bluegrass banjo picker from White Oak, West Virginia. In 1952 he joined the Lilly Brothers from nearby Beckley, and headed for Boston, where they played together for over eighteen years at the (in)famous Hillbilly Ranch. Stover had great influence on a generation of important young banjo pickers, from Bill Keith (who introduced chromatic scales to bluegrass as a member of Bill Monroe’s band) to Bela Fleck (the bluegrass and jazz-fusion star)
Courtesy of the always fascinating Selvedge Yard, a selection of photos from the archive of photographer Henry Horenstein, “Portraits of Country Music 1972-1981“– a time before CMT and “New Country,” a time when country was… well, country.
15 July 1974, Berryville, Virginia — Bluegrass music fans at the Berryville Bluegrass Festival
15 July, 1975, Cambridge, MA. Waylon Jennings began as his career as a Cricket (Buddy Holly’s bass player) and ended it as an Outlaw (a member of the group that also included Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Billy Joe Shaver). Along the way, he conspired with Johnny Cash in the addled 60s , then charted a series of hits that included the classic “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”
See the rest of Horenstein’s arresting photos at The Selvedge Yard.
As we pine for a PBR, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that, in another corner of the music world, Chuck Berry’s first hit record, “Maybellene” entered the R&B chart. Piano player Johnnie Johnson recalls that he and Berry rewrote the song at the suggestion of Leonard Chess: “It was an old fiddle tune called ‘Ida Red'[recorded in 1938 by Bob Wills]. I changed the music and re-arranged it, Chuck re-wrote the words, and the rest, as they say, was history. Leonard Chess asked me to come up to record it live. At that time, someone else already had a song out by the same name, so we had to change our version. We noticed a mascara box in the corner, so we changed the name to ‘Maybellene.'”