Remnick on Buddy Guy and the Blues

While not personally a blues guy, I loved every paragraph of David Remnick’s terrific New Yorker feature exploring Buddy Guy’s long career, the change of blues’s place in culture and what the future holds, if anything, for the genre as Guy’s been playing it. Toward the end of the piece, Remnick turns to his magazine’s own poetry editor — poet and essayist Kevin Young — for this insightful description of the form:

The blues contain multitudes. Just when you say the blues are about one thing—lost love, say—here comes a song about death, or about work, about canned heat or loose women, hard men or harder times, to challenge your definitions. Urban and rural, tragic and comic, modern as African America and primal as America, the blues are as innovative in structure as they are in mood—they resurrect old feelings even as they describe them in new ways.

"American Curmudgeon: On Jeff Tweedy"

Fantastic piece at The Ringer by Lindsay Zoladz. Can’t wait to read his new book.

For reasons that should by now be apparent, Jeff Tweedy never struck me as the candid-memoir type. In fact, whatever the exact opposite of the candid-memoir type is? He struck me as that. Although I have been listening to his music for 20 years, he’s always felt like an enigma. And that has always sort of felt like the point—here was this ambling, mumbling, Sour Patch–voiced guy who’d much rather put his life into oblique lyrical metaphors than say anything about it outright. The closest he’d ever come to a statement of self was “I am an American aquarium drinker”—and as gorgeous a lyric it is, I am still not sure what the hell it means. Even in Jones’s documentary, which is generally considered (incorrectly, Tweedy would like you to know in his book) the most revealing document about Wilco, Tweedy comes off as a little prickly, withholding, and slyly deliberate in what he chooses to share. It might seem like a lot—infamously, he lets the cameras follow him into the bathroom to film him vomit from his habitual migraines—but the closer you watch the more he recedes. “There is no sunken treasure,” he insists in one of the songs he performs in the film, “rumored to be wrapped inside my ribs, in a sea black with ink.”

Cultural Notes: January 2018

With a nod to Kottke's monthly "Media Diet" posts, I'm experimenting this year with short monthly recaps of interesting things I've read, watched or listened to. (This is as much for myself, as noting what I took in can help me better recall it.)



  • The Big Sick (B+)
  • Columbus (A) — Unique and sensitive debut with such lovely and surprising  architecture.
  • The Sopranos, Final Season (A)

Listened To

  • Lomelda, "From Here," — Stumbled on her via Spotify Discover. The last-third build-up gets me singing.  
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on "Discovering America" — On this recent New Yorker Radio Hour interview with David Remnick, Adichie was incisive and funny. Moved me to pick up Americanah, which I'm reading now.
  • Slow Burn — Binged-listened to this podcast about Watergate. Hard to believe.
  • Saint Louis Symphony Concert Family Concert  — First time taking Leo, who looked up with wide eyes at Powell Hall's magnificent ceiling. It was a treat that the special guest was the 442s, friends and collaborators on this Forest Park Forever project. A week since going, Leo's been loudly 'conducting' in the kitchen. 

Tim Carmody on Bill Callahan

With this terrific guest post — "Bill Callahan, the only sad man worth loving" — Carmody had me immediately returning to the handful of albums I own. (As Carmody points out, Callahan's not on Spotify, my own daily streaming service: "This means his legacy risks being eclipsed for a whole cohort of fans. I find this unacceptable.") 

Below, one of the gems Carmody highlights at the post:

When Lapham Played Beethoven for Monk

Thanks to a surprise purchase by my wife, I've been enjoying the new issue of Lapham's Quarterly, which takes music as its cover-to-cover subject. (How that theme was still open to them after several years of publishing is surprising.) 

I've enjoyed reading Lapham for years, but hadn't known that he'd studied piano as a youth, or that he'd spent time in New York City as a young writer waiting (and waiting and waiting) to write about Thelonious Monk. After several months of sharing late-night space in the Five Spot, this happened:

At four AM on a Thursday in late March [1965], the Five Spot’s waiters stacking chairs on tables, Monk stood up from the piano, snapped his fingers, thrust his palm in my direction. “Time to play, man,” he said, “time to hear what you know.” Out front in the back of a Rolls-Royce, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter was come to carry Monk home. She did so many mornings, but I never had been around at four AM to see Monk nod to the chauffeur holding open the door. A beautiful woman of uncertain age, wrapped in fur and wearing pearls, the baroness smiled, pointed me toward the seat in front. I can’t now remember if she spoke more than four words in my direction, either in the car or after we arrived at Monk’s apartment on West Sixty-Third Street at Eleventh Avenue.

Monk didn’t mess with preliminaries. Not bothering to remove his hat (that evening a fine English bowler), he pointed to the piano, opened and closed the wooden door of the bathroom directly behind it, seated himself on the toilet to listen to whatever came next. Nellie and the baroness sat upright and attentive on the small blue sofa they shared with a rag doll and a rocking horse. I played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 27 in two movements (the first in E minor, the second in E major), run time fourteen minutes if taken at the indicated tempos. I don’t say I played it as well as Lipsky might have played it, but I’d been practicing it six days out of seven for two months, and to the best of my knowledge and recollection, I didn’t miss many notes, never once felt ill at ease or afraid. Monk stepped out of the bathroom, looked me square in the face, said simply, straight, no chaser, “I heard you.”

By then I knew enough to dig what he was saying. It wasn’t the personality of Lewis H. Lapham he heard playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 27. He didn’t care who or what I was, clubfooted and white or blue-eyed and black. It wasn’t me or my interpretation, it was the music itself, off the charts beyond good and evil that somehow and if only for the time being I’d managed to reach.

Nick Paumgarten Profiles St. Vincent

Following his exceptional profile of Father John Misty, Paumgarten goes deep with the intriguing, shrewd and self-aware St. Vincent: 

When she listens to a playback, she often buries her head in her arms, as though she can hardly bear to hear herself, but, really, it’s just her way of listening hard. Once, during a mixing session, while she was at the board and I was behind her on a couch, surreptitiously reading a text message, she picked up her head, turned around, and said, “Did I lose you there, Nick? I can feel when attention is wandering.” Her cheery use of the name of the person she is addressing can seem to contain a faint note of mockery. There’d be times, in the following months, when I’d walk away from a conversation with Clark feeling like a character in a kung-fu movie who emerges from a sword skirmish apparently unscathed yet a moment later starts gushing blood or dropping limbs.

A Father's Tradition

A Happy Fathers Day nod to a dad who passed down his now-40-year tradition of logging the culture he took in each year. He turned 75 today, and said he’s going to go back through his decades of notes and see what’s risen to the top. 

Our conversation moved me to page through my own logbook. Here, a few pics of pages covering books, films and concerts during the late 90s/early 2000s, a few years before my process went digital