Saturday, February 25, 2006

Wayback machine

Ah, for the time when pop-music criticism was dense and thoughtful, even longwinded and baroque. I am talking about the heyday of record reviewing in Rolling Stone, and I am thrilled that most of the reviews from the magazine's nearly 40 years seem to be up on its Web site.

I could read these for hours. Most recently I am struck by Debra Rae Cohen's essay on Blondie's 1979 album Eat to the Beat, a 1000-word critique that says the group "pioneered a reverse-twist musical archivism that's antiromantic rather than escapist." I'm not even sure what that means, but it's a lot to think about. Many of the pieces were written by Kurt Loder, and there also are articles by Stephen Holden and Janet Maslin, more recently of The New York Times.

The database has weird lacunae (no review of INXS' 1987 breakthrough Kick?), and the bibliographical information has been compiled haphazardly. Why, for example, does that Blondie review list the album as having come out in 2001? Perhaps because it was reissued on CD then, but there are many careless errors like that. Also, Rolling Stone's site doesn't seem to get along particularly well with the Firefox browser.

But no one said rock was easy.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Hey there

To honor the revival of The Pajama Game now playing on Broadway, here is a snapshot from the finale of my high school production of same. I'm in the pajama bottoms.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

And them

In Tennessee, where I come from, a common locution is to say and them when referring to one of the members of an amorous couple. So if I were going to stop by the home of my stepmother's parents, Joyce and Wayne, I might say, "I'm going up to Joyce and them's."

But how often is the famous duo of magicians referred to as -- I did this unconsciously just now -- Siegfried and them?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Breaking the law

Terry Teachout blogged about his workout mix, and his list came to mind last night as I ran at the gym. Trotting along with my combination radio and mp3 player, I made the most amazing discovery: The finest workout mix is the one played on the syndicated radio program "Nights with Alice Cooper," wherein the veteran shock rocker reads fun facts and plays the very best in trashy rock music.

The broadcast last night featured Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again," Triumph's "Lay It on the Line" and "Breaking the Law" by Judas Priest, along with Alice's brief paean to the Southwestern breakfast dish of scrambled eggs and rattlesnake. All of this helped make me a better athlete.

Here in Madison, 101.5 WIBA-FM airs "Nights with Alice Cooper" Monday through Friday, from 7 pm to midnight.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Three things I'm good at

Parallel parking, spelling and naming that tune. (Though I did have to look up reminiscences a moment ago.)

Monday, February 20, 2006

You didn't ask, but...

Recently a curious person called my newspaper and asked how to start a career in writing. I returned the call and told her, basically, this:

1. Write. For publication. Get your stuff printed in any outlet you can think of, because when you do start trying to sell your writing for money, you're going to need clips -- from the neighborhood newsletter, the church bulletin, anything. And what I just said notwithstanding, you don't necessarily need to get your stuff printed. When I applied for one of my first writing jobs, as an entertainment scribe, among the clips I submitted were product reviews I wrote for These got my foot in the door.

2. Assume you don't suck. Emily Dickinson wrote steadily for decades but published just a handful of poems in her lifetime. I'm not sure what the problem was, but my hunch is that she was afraid her writing sucked. As for me, a mistake I made in early adulthood was to conclude -- based partly on the advice of some well-meaning but very blunt professionals I consulted -- that I was not talented enough to write for a living. That was many moons and four careers ago. Note: the blunt professionals didn't tell me I sucked. They only said that writing is a tough business. I inferred the rest.

3. Try not to suck. As a writer of newspaper features, I know my first imperative is to keep readers from turning the page. This means writing lively prose, and here we confront the great mystery: How the hell do we become good writers? I've read lots of advice on this topic, most of it arbitrary, subjective and ideosyncratic -- and all of it useful. Which is to say, one thing you can do is read as many writing manuals as you like, Strunk and White, whatever. Just don't worry if you find yourself violating, to choose an example at random, rule 20a (3) in the Harbrace College Handbook ("Choose the specific and concrete word rather the general and abstract one"). Like any creative endeavor, writing is choices. As long as you're thoughtful and confident in your choices, you'll be fine. (I believe this vocabulary of sucking and not sucking came from a journalism talk I once heard Dan Savage give, which brings to mind another excellent guideline: If you're going to borrow, borrow from the best.)