The April Newsletter: Better Late Than Never

Music

The Clubs of Northern Soul

Growing up an hour north of Manchester, spending long weekends in Northern Soul clubs was the beginning of my fascination with music; in fact, it spurred me to become a musician. Amazing times - followed in 1976 by punk rock.
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“Northern Soul was the birth of the crate-digger, the start of modern clubbing as we all know it and a fully-formed drug subculture some 20 years before ecstasy arrived in the UK. Some time in the mid-60s there was sharp divergence between soul lovers in the North and South. The original London mods dissolved into the new dream of LSD and Jefferson Airplane, swapping Italian suits for kaftans, while in the North they kept the faith driven by a hunger for unearthing new and old soul sounds from labels in the African-American underground like Ric-Tic and Golden World (Detroit), Mirwood (Los Angeles) and Shout and Okeh (New York and Chicago).

The term ‘Northern Soul’ was coined by soul writer Dave Godin in a piece he wrote for Blues & Soul Magazine in 1970 as a way of describing the divergence in styles between the north and south. Northerners would come into Godin’s London store, Soul City, and ask for completely different tunes to his regular southern customers. “What I noticed was that people who came from the north were not buying what was subsequently called funk,” said Godin. The sound was uptempo and mainly based on the stomping beat personified by the Four Tops’ ‘Can’t Help Myself’ and other Motown productions. This sound was largely fuelled by increasing amphetamine use at all-nighters, where Northern Soul was forged and thrived.

The birthplace of Northern Soul, Manchester’s Twisted Wheel was the premier spot to dance all night to black soul music (along with others, like Peter Stringfellow’s Mojo club in Sheffield), it soon developed a reputation not only for its musical influence, but also in establishing Northern Soul’s drug culture; with events often lasting until 10am on Sunday mornings, amphetamines were commonplace among clubbers wanting to last the distance.” Link 

The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie by John Jeremiah Sullivan

On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace.

This is an article by one of my favorite writers and long-form journalists. It appeared in the NY Times magazine back in April of 2014. It is an incredible story. I won't say anything more other than it's a must-read for anyone interested in early-20th-century African-American music.

"...Yet despite more than 50 years of researchers’ efforts to learn who the two women were or where they came from, we have remained ignorant of even their legal names. The sketchy memories of one or two ancient Mississippians, gathered many decades ago, seemed to point to the southern half of that state, yet none led to anything solid. A few people thought they heard hints of Louisiana or Texas in the guitar playing or in the pronunciation of a lyric. We know that the word “Geechee,” with a c, can refer to a person born into the heavily African-inflected Gullah culture centered on the coastal islands off Georgia and the Carolinas. But nothing turned up there either. Or anywhere. No grave site, no photograph. Forget that — no anecdotes. This is what set Geeshie and Elvie apart even from the rest of an innermost group of phantom geniuses of the ’20s and ’30s." Link 
 

Outlaw Country: Merle Haggard

“As it turned out, everything about Merle Haggard was confusing. And nothing was more confusing than his 1969 chart topper, “Okie from Muskogee.” The song is essentially a catalog of right-thinking Muskogean do’s and don’ts delivered in the first person plural: in Muskogee, we wear boots, not sandals; indulge in moonshine, not pot; hold hands instead of orgies; et cetera. In Muskogee, Haggard sings, “football’s still the roughest thing on campus / And the kids here still respect the college dean.” On the page, the lyrics are pointedly uncomplicated, a deadening and tedious rebuke from middle America to the hippies. The song seemed so self-evident that Richard Nixon, assuming it represented a country music consensus, asked Johnny Cash to play it for him. Cash claimed not to know the song, and played “What is Truth?,” a song with a strongly antiwar second verse, instead.

Haggard himself had a vexed relationship with his biggest hit, and it remains impossible to decide exactly how to interpret “Okie from Muskogee.” On one account, Haggard wrote the song as a straightforward conservative but changed his mind as the years passed. Haggard himself promoted this view in a 2003 interview:

“I had different views in the ’70s. As a human being, I’ve learned [more]. I have     more culture now. I was dumb as a rock when I wrote “Okie From Muskogee.” That’s being honest with you at the moment, and a lot of things that I said [then] I sing with a different intention now. My views on marijuana have totally changed.” Link

Head Wound City

Head Wound City is a side project that includes Yeah Yeah Yeah's Nick Zimmer and members of The Blood Brothers. New album on the way, video for latest single on YouTube. Link
 

Marty and Elayne Celebrate 35 Years of Jazzing Up the Dresden Room

“For a city with a million entertainment options, the L.A. tourist checklist can be streamlined with relative ease. There’s Griffith Park and the Observatory; your preferred beach and favorite taco spot; the Getty Museum or Villa; and a trip to the Dresden Room to sip a Blood & Sand and watch Marty and Elayne.

It’s a safe assertion that the sequined jumpsuit–clad married couple are the longest-running act in town. On Friday, April 1, they celebrate 35 years of riffing on the American songbook five nights a week at the Los Feliz bar. Their stint there has included surprise appearances from Flea and Nicolas Cage. As Julia Roberts delivered a spontaneous rendition of “Makin’ Whoopee,” Kiefer Sutherland bought a round for the entire bar.

“One night Flea sat in and we covered ‘Evil Ways.’ We got so carried away that there was a red haze and we couldn’t see the audience,” Elayne Roberts says, sparkling in a black and green jumpsuit that matches Marty’s. They sit together in a side room at the Dresden, a 62-year-old institution that looks as if Hugh Hefner converted it from a German war bunker into a Playboy Mansion grotto bar.

“Someone breakdanced, knocked the mic over and made a big bang,” Elayne continues. “Then Flea got on the mic and said, ‘When we play that primal stuff, anything can happen.’” Link 

Elsewhere...

If you live in, or are visiting, Portland, Notable Portland may be for you.

Convincing people plastic is paper

"Amazon just announced its newest Kindle model—there are slight technological enhancements over its predecessor, but the bigger shift is in significant aesthetic changes meant to make the device feel more like a book. But plastic polymers are never going to have to same feel as paper, even if a device can hold an entire library. And that’s a problem for Amazon: to keep Kindle growing, Amazon needs book lovers. At SlateWill Oremus explains:

For all of their conveniences, e-readers have never been able to replicate what people love most about physical books. The smell of an old leather binding; the crisp deckle edge of a new hardback; the way a dog-eared paperback feels in your hand. The way they look on a shelf, or stuffed into your back pocket; the way they show people at a glance what you’re reading, so you can connect with a friend or stranger over a shared affinity—or show off your good taste.

But Oremus also points out that few companies have better data on customer habits than Amazon, and if the company thinks it can sell a $290-pseudo book, it probably can."

Tennis With Mr. Nice

My week with the late Howard Marks, drug smuggler and author.

In June 1995, on a magazine assignment that never came to fruition, I flew to Palma, Majorca, to spend a week with Howard Marks. He was just out of prison then, having served seven of a twenty-five year sentence on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations charges at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Howard’s backstory was well known in the UK, but less so in the U.S., despite a Frontline documentary on his worldwide marijuana smuggling. As a young working-class Welsh philosophy student at Oxford, Howard had started out as a small-time dealer and, in his smart, amiable way, worked his way up the ladder to become a bona-fide drug kingpin, a Robin Hood to stoners across the British Isles. “Mr. Nice,” as one of his aliases had it, dealt only in soft drugs; today he might be an upstanding citizen of Washington or Colorado. To the everlasting chagrin of the British police, he beat the rap once at the Old Bailey—he’d been caught moving fifteen tons of dope from a fishing trawler off the Irish coast onto dry land—by offering the unimpeachable defense that he’d been working for MI6 at the time. He was not a drug smuggler, he said, but a narc. Link

Hail The Maintainers

Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more

"Innovation is a dominant ideology of our era, embraced in America by Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the Washington DC political elite. As the pursuit of innovation has inspired technologists and capitalists, it has also provoked critics who suspect that the peddlers of innovation radically overvalue innovation. What happens after innovation, they argue, is more important. Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations.

The fates of nations on opposing sides of the Iron Curtain illustrate good reasons that led to the rise of innovation as a buzzword and organising concept. Over the course of the 20th century, open societies that celebrated diversity, novelty, and progress performed better than closed societies that defended uniformity and order." Link

And The Party Has Just Begun…(April 9th, Paris)

The Demonstration

"At 2PM, Republic Square (Paris), everything is set. The balloons of the unions float among the odors of mergeuz and the stands for the political parties are wisely placed along the route. “We’ll have to see how this activist Left will enter the presidential and legislative fray” as well stated by [Jean-Christophe] Cambadélis. There’s less people than on Mar. 31st – that’s certain – as well as less rain. That’s the benefit of order: it brings on well-known sensations, reassuring feelings and a comfortable narcosis. All the while on this Saturday, with the protest yet to kick off, we perceive a strange uncertainty among the crowd, a worry. Thousands of people with thousands of little rocks in their shoes. It’s evident that the deployment of massive police and national guard [tr. gendarmerie] forces on the sidewalks should not be a strange occurrence. Members of the UNEF [National Union of Students of France] feign liveliness despite their small numbers. They, who everywhere proclaim to be the authoritative voice of the movement, struggle to bring out more than a few dozen zombies to march behind their enormous soundsystem and get their eardrums pierced by the shaky voice of a bawdy militant. Happily an elastic string helps materialize their decimated flock. They’ve brought enough flags, but not enough flag-carriers: this Saturday each will have at least 3 union stickers and the luckiest among them might get a cameo on the frontpage of [the Lefty newspaper] Libération. Besides that string, this modest procession is surrounded by the security forces of the CGT [General Confederation of Labor], whom are also accompanied by the different police forces mentioned above. For any passing observer the situation is puzzling: does the CGT protect the UNEF from the police? Or the police from the UNEF? Or rather does the police protect the UNEF from the CGT? As far as the probabilities goes, there are 9 possible combinations, including the most probable: they all protect each other in a fine example of mise en abîme." Link
 
Dorothy Parker's "If only's"

“Dorothy Parker was too smart to buy the legend and too clearheaded to slide into nostalgia. That left her having to acknowledge some bitter realities…. The tragedy of Dorothy Parker, it seems to me, isn’t that she succumbed to alcoholism or died essentially alone. It was that she was too intelligent to believe that she had made the most of herself.” Link 

—If you cannot read enough of or about Dorothy Parker you will want to add this to your list.

Cinema: I'll just leave this here

"Anybody who’s never seen Convoy is unwittingly living a life of diminished expectations. Anybody’s who’s seen it knows what diminished expectations feels like. It’s kind of a lose-lose where everybody wins!"

Via Phawker.com Check out the movie poster featuring Kristofferson and MacGraw

 

People only have the despair they can afford

Michael Peppiatt - Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir

"Bacon’s entourage, which included Sonia Orwell, was no cheerier. The influential critic and editor Cyril Connolly casually remarked to Peppiatt, “The very idea of Sonia being happy is obscene.” Orwell, among Bacon’s gallery of rogues, is a highlight of Peppiatt’s memoir; after their near sexual incursion is foiled by Connolly’s lurking presence, Orwell asks Peppiatt how Connolly can still be lusting for her “after all these years.”

With the arrival of the 21st century, Bacon’s works have fetched exorbitant auction prices, drawing fire from critics, who call for reappraisal. But Peppiatt’s remembrance is neither tribute nor apologia. “Francis Bacon in Your Blood” is a candid portrayal of a famous man who could be very generous, even with his foes, and very petty, even with his friends — and Bacon, to his credit, was acutely aware of his own frailties. When Peppiatt, always anxious about exciting Bacon’s temper, ventured that “people only have the despair they can afford,” Bacon conceded, “You’ve just said something very profound.” Link 

The March Newsletter

All through February I have found myself going down many, many rabbit holes; everything appears to have exploded: politics, the stock markets, the death of Antonin Scalia that has the Republicans, of all people, basically ignoring the constitution and refusing to accept anyone that Obama nominates to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Of course when it comes to the right to bear arms the constitution works just fine for them. 

Meanwhile the media is struggling to understand just how Donald Trump manages to remain the front runner in the Republican primaries, while anointing Marco Rubio as the establishment figure that could save the party! Unbelievable. The man can't handle his own finances and wants to scrap all income taxes, especially for the rich... I could go on. As for the media, they really need to shape up.

Anyway, in this month's newsletter you'll find an essay by David Byrneregarding the Trump phenomenon, Larry Sukernik on the private and public markets and how IPO's are a bad deal for the regular investors, Douglas Rushkoff on digital capitalism, Carrie Battan on the hidden wonders of Sia, Elizabeth Spiers on Conde Nast's struggles with digital media, Doc Searlson what if we don't need advertising at all (this warms my heart,) Scott Galloway in a 16 minute video about the Gang of Four, no, not my band - Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. Michael Graziano, a neuroscientist at Princeton explains why dieting never works - it has nothing to do with hunger, it has everything to do with your mind. Sasha Frere-Jones has a great overview of the Grammys and how the Oscars should take note, Steven Soderbergh on How Necessity Is Just A Mother, Period. Roy Christopher takes a look at some books that are literally 'Other worldly...' And finally Apple answers your questions about security...

Here are the stories:

David Byrne is puzzled by Trump's support

Larry Sukernik on the reason IPOs are historically poor investments because the valuation is already at a peak prior to the IPO

Douglas Rushkoff on Digital Capitalism

Carrie Battan on the Hidden Wonders of Sia

Elizabeth Spiers on Conde Nast's struggles with digital media

Doc Searls - what if we don't need advertising at all

Scott Galloway, who is a professor of Marketing and Brand Strategy at the NYU Stern School of Business, discusses “The Gang of Four” (Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon), their victims, and the strategies that led them onto a path to a trillion dollar market cap.

Michael Graziano, a neuroscientist at Princeton explains why dieting never works

Sasha Frere-Jones has a great overview of the Grammys and how the Oscars should take note

Steven Soderbergh on How Necessity Is Just A Mother, Period. 

Roy Christopher takes a look at some books that are literally 'Other worldly...'

Apple answers your questions about security...

As always thanks for reading, and if you feel like sharing these newsletters with your friends here's the link.

Cognitive dissonance is the normal human condition...

Why Apple Vs the Government Affects us All

 "But the Apple case threatens to undermine those promises. If a court can get Apple to hack into an iPhone, why couldn’t it also force Amazon to change the Echo’s security model so the Echo can record everything you say? Mr. Soghoian believes the Apple case could set that precedent.

“What we really need for the Internet of Things to not turn into the Internet of Surveillance is a clear ruling that says that the companies we’re inviting into our homes and bedrooms cannot be conscripted to turn their products into roving bugs for the F.B.I.,” he said.

Some readers may argue for a simpler solution to this problem: Opt out of the technologies that could be made to spy on you. Don’t buy the Amazon Echo. Don’t put cameras in your house. Don’t use a thermostat that connects to the Internet and can monitor when you’re home and when you’re not.

There’s some merit to these arguments, but technology has a way of worming its way into our lives without many of us making a conscious choice to let it in. Smartphones and personal computers were once an indulgence; then, as more people began to use them, they became inescapable.

The “Internet of Things” will follow a similar path. Employers and insurance companies may require you to wear health-tracking devices. It may become impossible to find cars without cameras and sensors. Every fridge will come with cameras inside whether you like it or not.

“From a historical perspective, we’re entering into a very new era,” said Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. Not long ago, we were living in a world in which surveillance was difficult. “In the past, you and I would have a conversation in person. No record would be made; nobody would have access to it. I wrote things on paper; I burned them in my fireplace. They were gone forever.”

But in the absence of technical and legal protections, technology is upturning those presumptions.

“Now we have a surveillance-enabled world,” Ms. Granick said. “It’s cheap, and it’s easy. The question that society has to ask is, Is that what we really want?”

Link 

Kanye West Is Fixing His Album In Public. You’ll Want To Read The Edits

When Kanye West first tweeted a handwritten 10-song track list for his seventh album, “The Life of Pablo,” late last month, the photo was captioned, “So happy to be finished with the best album of all time.”

Best? Could happen. Finished? Not even close.

Instead, the rollout of “Pablo” has been an unprecedented public marathon, with Mr. West, the Grammy-winning rap artist, adding songs, revising lyrics on quick notice, adding and dropping contributors, changing the album’s title and release date several times, and gabbing about it all on Twitter. The process has also included televised live performances, public squabbles, unauthorized leaks of demo recordings — the sort of stuff Dylan archivists typically wait decades to hear — and a fashion show with 1,000 models.

The result is an exemplar of modern celebrity musicmaking: a dramatic, rococo, continuous (and possibly still continuing) narrative that spans music, fashion, theater and politics. Mr. West has turned the album release process — historically a predictably structured event, and lately rewritten by stars like Beyoncé as precise, sudden assault — into a public conversation, one taking place on Twitter, YouTube, Periscope and in Madison Square Garden as much as in the studio. With flux embedded in its DNA, “Pablo” is crisply alive, like water that’s still boiling even though the flame is off. Pay close attention to the multiple iterations and you hear an artist at work, as well as a celebrity tending his image. It’s everything bared — process as art.

Link