Monday, September 29, 2008

Overtures Overture

Mulberry Street, NYC, 1900.

Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, This Is It (Bugs Bunny Overture).
Duke Ellington, Three Suites: Overture.
Kurt Weill, The Threepenny Opera: Overture.
The Who, Overture.
Frederick Loewe, My Fair Lady: Overture.
Al Duffy and Tony Mottola, Light Cavalry Overture.
Mobb Deep, Intro.
Richard Strauss, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme: Ouverture.
Rush, 2112 Overture.
Arnold Schoenberg, Variations for Orchestra: Introduction.
The Gentle Soul, Overture.
LMP, Back to a Century of Song.

I used to run into Warren from time to time during the 1970s. Once, at a nightclub called Reno Sweeney, we watched an entertainer named Genevieve White. This was just a few years after the Fillmore East had closed. Maybe Warren and I had thought the Fillmore, and all it represented, was going to be definitive for our generation, and here we were in a nightclub. Genevieve White had just sung a song called "Romance Is On the Rise."

"Romance is coming back, Warren," I said.

"You know what's coming back?" Warren said. "Everything. And then it's going away for good."

George W.S. Trow, Within the Context of No Context.

All parts of the universe are interwoven and the bond is sacred. And nothing is foreign or unrelated to each other.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

It is generally our fate as human beings that as we approach the end of a century, we go collectively mad. And as we approach the end of a millennium, we grow collectively madder. That is what is happening to us today. More fundamentalism. More visions, more insecurities, more madness...The last century has been the most awful century in the history of the millennium. I hope and I pray that we are at the beginning of the end of that awfulness.

Chaim Potok, interview, 1997.

Mulberry Street, NYC, ca. 2001.

Assorted introductions: Bugs and Daffy, 1960; Ellington (making Tchaikovsky swing), on Three Suites, 1960; Threepenny Opera, 1928; Tommy, 1969; My Fair Lady, 1956; Duffy and Motolla's western swing version of Franz von Suppé's warhorse, 1944; Mobb Deep, intro to Murda Muzik, 1999; Strauss' Gentilhomme, 1917; Schoenberg's introduction to his Variations for Orchestra, 1928; Rush, 1976; The Gentle Soul, from their self-titled (and only) 1968 LP; LMP's track is from their epic Century of Song, now out of print.

So, as LMP says, let's go back...

Monday, September 22, 2008

All the Money's Gone, Nowhere to Go

Michael Douglas, Greed Is Good.
The Ethiopians, Everything Crash.
The Beatles, You Never Give Me Your Money.
Jimmy Witherspoon, Money Getting Cheaper (Times Getting Tougher).
Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, We Need Some Money.
Gus Cannon, My Money Never Runs Out.
Howlin' Wolf, Work For Your Money.
Duke Ellington, Wall Street Wail.

The Federal Reserve, in an attempt to prevent the crisis on Wall Street from infecting its two premier institutions, took the extraordinary measure on Sunday night of agreeing to convert investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. into traditional bank holding companies.

With the move, Wall Street as it has long been known -- a coterie of independent brokerage firms that buy and sell securities, advise clients and are less regulated than old-fashioned banks -- will cease to exist.

The Wall Street Journal, 22 September 2008.

Every day carry bucket to the well,
One day the bucket bottom must drop out.
Every day carry bucket to the well,
One day the bucket bottom must drop out.

The Ethiopians, "Everything Crash."

Even as policy makers worked on details of a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Wall Street began looking for ways to profit from it.

Financial firms were lobbying to have all manner of troubled investments covered, not just those related to mortgages.

At the same time, investment firms were jockeying to oversee all the assets that Treasury plans to take off the books of financial institutions, a role that could earn them hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees.

NY Times, 22 September 2008.

Creditors and debtors: Beatles; Ethiopians; Witherspoon; Chuck Brown; Gus Cannon; Howlin' Wolf; Duke Ellington.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, 'Tis Autumn.
Françoise Hardy, Autumn Rendez-vous.
Hugh Hopper and Richard Sinclair, Long Lingers Autumn Time.
The Moody Blues, Forever Autumn.
Gene Autry, When Golden Leaves Are Falling.
Chet Atkins, The Red Leaves of Autumn.
Yves Montand, Les Feuilles Mortes.
Jerry Lee Lewis, Autumn Leaves.
Ahmad Jamal Trio, Autumn Leaves.
Lena Horne, Autumn in New York.
Bud Powell, Autumn in New York.
Pet Shop Boys, Only The Wind.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky, The Seasons: Autumn Song (October).
Xmal Deutschland, Autumn.
Captain Beefheart, Autumn's Child.
Roberto Carlos, Folhas de Outono.
Manu Chao, L'automne Est Làs.
Walter Huston, September Song.
Charles Ives, Second Sonata for Violin and Piano: Autumn.
Brian Eno, Dunwich Beach, Autumn 1960.
Sonny Rollins, Autumn Nocturne.

Summer was gone
and the heat died down.

Nick Drake, "Time of No Reply."

Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone hoped it would stay for the big weekend--the weekend of the Yale game. Of the twenty-some young men who were waiting at the station for their dates to arrive on the ten-fifty-two, no more than six or seven were out on the cold, open platform.

J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey.

First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren't rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn't begun yet...

But you take October, now. School's been on a month and you're riding easier in the reins, jogging along. You got time to think of the garbage you'll dump on old man Prickett's porch, or the hairy-ape costume you'll wear to the YMCA the last night of the month. And if it's around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash-gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.

Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Schiele, Autumn Tree

Why does the sky's blue darken as autumn comes? Is it just the gradual subtraction of cousinly green from the foreground palette, the addition of oranges and browns? That little maple, hastening to turn before her sisters did for some reason, lifting and shaking her burning hands. The hurt and the old turned soonest: the high outermost limb of that dying ancient; that riven but still living one.

John Crowley, Daemonomania.

The season changes. A cold wind chills the beach.

The long lines of it grow longer, emptier,
A darkness gathers though it does not fall

And the whiteness grows less vivid on the wall.
The man who is walking turns blankly on the sand.
He observes how the north is always enlarging the change...

Wallace Stevens, "The Auroras of Autumn."

Phillipe Sainte-Laudy, Gold River.

The maples perhaps undergo the most complete transformation of all the forest trees. Their leaves become fairly luminous, as if they glowed with inward light. In October a maple-tree before your window lights up your room like a great lamp.

John Burroughs, Under the Maples.

If, about the last of October, you ascend any hill in the outskirts of town and look over the forest, you will see, amid the brown of other oaks...the bright-red tops or crescents of the scarlet oaks, very equally and thickly distributed on all sides, even to the horizon. Complete trees standing exposed on the edges of the forest, where you have never suspected them, or perhaps towering above the surrounding trees, or reflecting a warm rose red from the very edge of the horizon in favorable lights.

All this you will see, and much more, if you are prepared to see it--if you look for it. Otherwise, regular and universal as this phenomenon is, you will think for threescore years and ten that all the wood is at this season sere and brown.

Henry David Thoreau, journal, 4 November 1858.

In this season the days wax short & the nights long. The air is dark, & the winds enter the northern regions...The weather changeth, & the rivers & springs wax less. The orchards & fruits wither. The beauty of earth fadeth. Birds cease their singing. Serpents seek their holes where they assembled their living in summer for the time of winter. The earth is as an old naked woman that goeth from youth to age. This season of harvest is cold & dry, this time black choler is moved. In this season is good to eat meats that be hot & moist as chickens, lambs, & drink old wines, eat sweet raisins. And keep thee from all things that breed black choler, as lying with women more than in summer, nor bathe ye not but [only] if great need require it to be done. In this season if a man have need of vomiting, do it at noon in the hottest of the day. For at that time all the superfluities of man's body gather together.

Secretum secretorum, "Of Autompne, or hervest."

Autumn hath all of the summer's fruitful treasure,
Gone is our sport, fled is poor Croydon's pleasure.
Short days, sharp days, long nights, come on apace,
Ah, who shall hide us from the winter's face?

Thomas Nashe, Summer's Last Will and Testament.

When the summer's over
and the dark clouds hide the sun,
neither you nor I'm to blame
when all is said and done.

ABBA, "When All Is Said and Done."

Woodhull Adams, White Cottage in Autumn

'And most hawks hate autumn.'

'Why?' asked Einar, suddenly interested. 'I have hunted a hawk in autumn but it never does well and I have always wondered why that is.'

'It is simple enough,' Sigvat replied. 'Here is a bird that hangs in the air, looking for the least little movement on the ground, which is its supper. And there are thousands of blowing leaves.'

Robert Low, The Whale Road.

It was the middle of the Ninth Month, a time when not even the most insensitive of men can be unaware of the mountain colors. The autumn winds tore at the trees and the leaves of the vines seemed fearful of being left behind. Someone far away was reading a sutra, and someone was invoking the Holy Name, and for the rest Ono seemed deserted.

Indifferent to the clappers meant to frighten them from the harvest, the deer that sought shelter by the garden fences were sombre spots among the hues of autumn. A stag bayed plaintively, and the roar of a waterfall was as if meant to break in upon sad thoughts.

Insect songs, less insistent, among the brown grasses, seemed to say that they must go but did not know where. Gentians peered from the grasses, heavy with dew, as if they alone might be permitted to stay on.

The sights and sounds of autumn, ordinary enough, but recast by the occasion and the place into a melancholy scarcely to be borne.

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji.

Here by the baring bough
Raking up leaves,
Often I ponder how
Springtime deceives--
I, an old woman now,
Raking up leaves.

Here in the avenue
Raking up leaves,
Lords' ladies pass in view,
Until one heaves
Sighs at life's russet hue,
Raking up leaves!

Just as my shape you see
Raking up leaves,
I saw, when fresh and free,
Those memory weaves
Into grey ghosts by me,
Raking up leaves.

Yet, Dear, though one may sigh,
Raking up leaves,
New leaves will dance on high--
Earth never grieves!--
Will not, when missed am I
Raking up leaves.

Thomas Hardy, "Autumn in King's Hintock Park."

Bruegel the Elder, The Corn Harvest.

At the time of our removal to St. Petersburg it was autumn--a season when, in the country, the weather is clear and keen and bright, all agricultural labor has come to an end, the great sheaves of corn are safely garnered in the byre, and the birds are flying hither and thither in clamorous flocks. Yes, at that season the country is joyous and fair, but here in St. Petersburg, at the time when we reached the city, we encountered nothing but rain, bitter autumn frosts, dull skies, ugliness, and crowds of strangers who looked hostile, discontented, and disposed to take offense.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Poor Folk.

...So many others, pedants, madmen, imbeciles
Admire the spring and the dawn,
That pair of virgins, rosier than their frocks.

Stinging autumn, you I love, more than
Any little angel face,
You, cruel and strange-eyed courtesan.

Paul Verlaine, "October Evening."

Central Park, in its finest hour

Even here autumn has its charm. This evening I went up to the woods above the town; I followed a main road bordered on one side by russet lindens and walnut trees. Men were knocking down the walnuts with long poles, and an odor of sodium iodide came from the husks that the children were trampling on the ground. A strong warm wind was blowing. Near the woods some men were plowing. As they passed, people hailed one another aloud and it seemed as if you could hear the children's songs from a greater distance than usual...

Every autumn I read Dickens, Turgenyev, or Eliot, but especially Dickens, whom I like to read more than anyone else at the end of the day, on my return from a long walk in the woods; then in slippers beside the fire while drinking tea and always in that same big armchair at La Roque...Every year at this time a refrain of all my old devotions and ardors is reawakened; I become a good boy again.

André Gide, journal, 1894.

They did not think how oft my eyesight turned
Toward the far skies where Indian Sunshine burned
That I was leaving a companion band,
That I had farewells even for that wild land
They did not think my head and heart were older
My strength more broken and my feelings colder
That spring was hastening into Autumn sere
And leafless trees make loveliest prospects drear...

Branwell Brontë, "Sir Henry Tunstall."

Jose Malhoa, Outono.

Ceres will decay like the other pagan gods when Christianity comes; the fall from paganism is like the fall from paradise. Eve has insisted on going off alone with her gardening tools to the Temptation; she is flying from the society of Adam and will not fly (it is a reproach against her) from Vertumnus, the god of autumn, of the Fall; the very richness of the garden makes it heavy with autumn.

William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral.

And merry it is when autumn sere
Cometh to tell of the closing year,
When the joyful villagers’ gladsome din
Telleth the harvest is gathered in.
And the vintage is ripe--though frosts appear.
‘Tis merry, ay merry, in autumn sere.

The Olio, or Museum of Entertainment (1829).

This is the start of our gentle time, Gladys...our season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun. On the farm there was almost a sense of the veld sighing with relief when autumn finally set in. We certainly did. Man and animal. Months of grace while we waited for the first rains.

Athol Fugard, A Lesson From Aloes.

There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October. The sunshine is peculiarly genial; and in sheltered places, as on the side of a bank, or of a barn or house, one becomes acquainted and friendly with the sunshine. It seems to be of a kindly and homely nature. And the green grass strewn with a few withered leaves looks the more green and beautiful for them. In summer or spring nature is farther from one's sympathies.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, "American Notebooks," 7 October 1841.

Who is there, with feelings however vitiated by an intercourse with a heartless world, that does not feel their spirit touched by the pensive solemnity of the season, as they wander forth amidst the 'sere and yellow leaves' which rustle beneath their footsteps? How soothing is their influence, and the heart becomes filled with softer and better emotions. The proud visions of ambition vanish away like the passing clouds. One wonders at the change, and can scarcely believe himself the same individual who, but a few moments before had mingled in the vortex of fashion.

James Elijah Tinker.

Dali, The Puzzle of Autumn

Soon the lights come on
Stools and chairs go up
Someone will shout out last call
The summer's past
Soon the snow will kill the rest of the grass
Old tree's died
There's nothin' to do in the fall.

Paul Westerberg, early version of lyrics to "Here Comes a Regular."

Millais, Autumn Leaves.

Let it exist, this bank, this beauty, and I, for one instant, steeped in pleasure. The sun is hot. I see the river. I see trees specked and burnt in the autumn sunlight. Boats float past, through the red, through the green. Far away a bell tolls, but not for death. There are bells that ring for life. A leaf falls, from joy.

Virginia Woolf, The Waves.

Yesterday I passed by an elm avenue, leading to a beautiful old house. The road between the trees was covered in all its length and breadth with fallen leaves--a carpet of pale gold. Further on, I came to a plantation, mostly of larches; it alone in the richest aureate hue, with here and there a splash of blood-red, which was a young beech in its moment of autumnal glory.

I looked at an alder, laden with brown catkins, its blunt foliage stained with innumerable shades of lovely colour. Near it was a horse-chestnut, with but a few leaves hanging on its branches, and those a deep orange. The limes, I see, are already bare.

To-night the wind is loud, and rain dashes against my casement; to-morrow I shall awake to a sky of winter.

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, "Autumn."

A harvest crop of autumnal songs, often bitter:

"'Tis Autumn" written in the '40s by Henry Nemo, is performed here by Ella Fitzgerald and the guitarist Joe Pass (on 1976's Fitzgerald and Pass...Again); Françoise Hardy's somber reminiscence (there are none more mournful about the loss of youth than youth itself) is from 1966, on Les Chansons D'amour; Hugh Hopper and Richard Sinclair's "Long Lingers Autumn Time," from 1983, is on Parabolic Versions; the Moody Blues' pure cheesefest "Forever Autumn," from 1978, is on Anthology.

Thoughts on falling leaves: Gene Autry's "Golden Leaves of Autumn," from 1937, is on The Singing Cowboy, while Chet Atkins' "Red Leaves of Autumn," from 1957, is on Hi-Fi in Focus.

And then there is "Les Feuilles Mortes," written by Jacques Prévert (set to music by Joseph Kozma) during WWII and immortalized in 1946 by Yves Montand. Translated soon afterward by Johnny Mercer, who renamed it "Autumn Leaves": encountered by Jerry Lee Lewis from 1980, from the unreleased Caribou Ranch sessions and the mighty Ahmad Jamal Trio, from 1955 (OKeh and Epic Recordings).

"Autumn in New York," written by Vernon Duke--Lena Horne's exhortation (from 1998's Being Myself) and Bud Powell's demolition, from 1953 (The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 2).

The Pet Shop Boys' "Only the Wind" is on the very autumnal LP Behavior, from 1990; Tchaikovsky's "Autumn Song" or "October," is one of a dozen piano pieces he composed in 1875-1876 for his op. 37, The Seasons (performed here by Antonin Kubalek); "Autumn's Child" was the last track on Captain Beefheart's debut LP, 1967's Safe As Milk; Xmal Deutschland, Hamburg's all-female Goth group of the 1980s, recorded "Autumn" for a John Peel session in 1985.

More falling leaves: Manu Chao's scattered thoughts on les feuilles mortes is on 2004's Sibérie M'était Contéee while the Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos' "Folhas de Outono" is from 1967's Em Ritmo de Aventura.

Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill's "September Song" was written for the 1938 play Knickerbocker Holiday. Anderson, an anarchist/pacifist, used Knickerbocker Holiday to equate FDR's New Deal with fascism; in the play, "September Song" was a lament by legendary New York governor/tyrant Pieter Stuyvesant, the play's FDR figure. The politics fade, the song endures. (Performed here by the original actor, Walter Huston, on From Berlin to Broadway.) And Eno's "Dunwich Beach" is from 1982's Ambient 4: On Land.

Most autumn songs are somber, quiet, shadowy things, stained with regret and loss, but occasionally there is a celebratory song in the genre, embracing the sunlit side of autumn--its sense of fulfillment, the way it burgeons with accumulated life, its extravagance and exuberance. Sonny Rollins' "Autumn Nocturne," recorded live when Rollins was 48, opens with a four-minute cadenza in which Rollins delivers one of the most glorious solo statements in recorded jazz. He rips along, shouts, swaggers (at one point he grunts twice at his own audacity), seems to do somersaults, quotes from "Home Sweet Home," and finally plunges like a diver into the groove his band has prepared for him. It seems the harvest of a performing life, but Rollins has kept on without pause for thirty years since. (On Silver City.)

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

Big Maceo, Worried Life Blues.
Gang of Four, We Live As We Dream, Alone.

Monday, September 08, 2008

6 Easy Pieces: The Press

The Beatles, A Day In the Life.
Ferde Grofé, Four Pictures of a Modern Newspaper: Run of the News.
Pete Seeger (with the Almanacs), Newspaper Man.
The Kinks, Mr. Reporter.
The Marx Brothers, Harpo Marx, Ace Reporter.
Wire, Reuters.
Joe Jackson, Sunday Papers.
The Jam, News of the World.
Public Enemy, A Letter to the New York Post.
Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, Cover of the Rolling Stone.
Belle and Sebastian, Chickfactor.
Don Henley, Dirty Laundry.
Hot Chocolate, Green Shirt.
Elvis Costello, Pills and Soap.
Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd, Jon Stewart on Crossfire.
Hüsker Dü, Turn On the News.

It was cold and damp in the city room the next day, and Miss Lonelyhearts sat at his desk with his hands in his pockets and his legs pressed together. A desert, he was thinking, not of sand but of rust and body dirt, surrounded by a back-yard fence on which are posters describing the events of the day. Mother slays five with ax, slays seven, slays nine...Babe slams two, slams three...Inside the fence Desperate, Broken-hearted, Disillusioned-with-tubercular-husband and the rest were gravely forming the letters MISS LONELYHEARTS out of white-washed clam shells, as if decorating the lawn of a rural depot...

Miss Lonelyhearts made believe that he was busy. He went over to his typewriter and started pounding out his column. "Life, for most of us, seems a terrible struggle of pain and heartbreak, without hope or joy. Oh, my dear readers, it only seems so. Every man, no matter how poor or humble, can teach himself to use his senses..."

Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts.


No one likes the press. Surveys show that Americans rate the media lower than they do used car salesmen, designated hitters, drunk drivers, immigrants or their next-door neighbors. Newspapers are biased, withering rags; radio is blaring stupidity; TV is a dead zone; the Internet is a den of rumormongers.

Musicians hate the press as well. It was hard to find a single song, over the course of a century, that is remotely positive about the profession of journalist. There have been songs sympathetic to drug dealers, abusive parents, boxers, murderers, politicians, preachers, even lawyers. But few, so few, for the press, the most reviled figures of our days.

It's easy to see why, especially those musicians who came of age in the era of Rolling Stone and MTV and US Weekly. Journalists are the people trying to snap their pictures at all hours and who spill the beans about a pop star having an affair or being gay, or they are the people hanging about backstage trying to be your friend and then giving your record a 3.6 rating. This leads to things like Billy Joel tearing up his bad newspaper reviews on stage, or Lou Reed bitching about Robert Christgau while recording a live album.


Maybe it's also that songwriters and musicians see the media as their aesthetic enemies, so that pop songs are the eternal rivals of the daily news--songs are transient things that occasionally become immortal, while the news is nothing but ephemeral until one day someone turns it into history.

John Lennon, reading the Daily Mail over breakfast one morning (more likely one afternoon) in January 1967, noticed two articles: a celebrity gossip item about the car-crash death of Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, and a dry inside-page single-column piece about the number of potholes in UK roads. Lennon, his mind saturated with LSD at the time, regarded the news as an utter absurdity--the salacious desire to revel in the lives and deaths of the famous and beautiful, juxtaposed with the ceaseless need to use polls and statistics to turn life into science. The cold madness of someone in a government research center calculating that the number of holes in Blackburn, Lancashire roads came out to one twenty-sixth of a hole per person was bad enough. To write an article about this finding was somehow even worse. Soon afterward, maybe that very afternoon, Lennon began to write his song.

"A Day In the Life" is about many things--transcendence, escape, drugs, the Beatles imagining the middle-class lives they would never lead--but deep in its heart is the news: our odd morning ritual, reading the paper over coffee and cereal, eating and yawning while skimming over the horrible deaths of thousands of people in a flood in order to read For Better or Worse or look at the winning lottery numbers.

(This version is an early mono mix, with McCartney's bass boosted a bit higher--the original is, of course, on Sgt. Pepper.)


There are perhaps two times in living memory when journalism held a bright place in the public imagination. One was after the Watergate scandal, when some considered journalists crusaders and patriots (others, traitors). And the other was the '30s and '40s, when journalism even had a touch of a romance and flair. It was a time when every mid-sized city had six or seven competing papers; it was the era of His Girl Friday, of copy boys and the city desk, of Walter Winchell, of Clark Kent and the Daily Planet.

Ferde Grofé (who had arranged some of Paul Whiteman's best jazz recordings) in 1932 wrote Tabloid Suite, a four-movement musical suite celebrating newspapers, a feat never before or again attempted. Taking cues from Erik Satie's Parade, Tabloid Suite is riddled with sound effects--the opening movement, "Run of the News," begins with the rapid-fire burst of a typewriter clacking. Performed by the Metropole Orchestra here.


Gay Talese checks the headlines

Some varied thoughts on reporters: Harpo Marx tries his hand at entertainment journalism (on EMI Comedy), while Dave Davies sneers at a journalist trying to dig something fresh out of him (recorded for a never-released solo LP in 1969, now a bonus track on Face to Face). (The pop star ridiculing the square reporter who's trying to frame him is a common trope of '60s pop, with Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" and the Beatles "And Your Bird Can Sing" among many examples.)

Pete Seeger's "Newspaper Man," from 1941, is a mordant look at the typical reporter's day. An older newspaper man once told me that in his youth he worked on the city desk and would be hammered by his editor for something juicy every day: "Gimme a good murder. Gimme a wreck. Gimme a good fire." Things haven't changed that much since. (The Almanacs were a loose confederation of folkies, including Seeger (whose banjo playing dominates the song), Lee Hays, Millard Lampell and sometimes Woody Guthrie--on Which Side Are You On?)

In Wire's "Reuters," a reporter wires back to his home office from out in the field: "This is your correspondent/running out of tape/gunfire's increasing/looting...burning..rape" (from 1977's Pink Flag).

In the summer of 1991, at a small daily newspaper in Connecticut, I started out on obituaries. On my first day I decided to edit an obit that I thought was too long, cutting out the deceased's membership in the Kiwanis Club and that he traveled to Costa Rica for his church. I was brilliant and 19 years old--I was going to refine the man's life down to its essentials. Well, the next day, after I was nearly fired, I had to run the uncut obituary and write an apology to the man's family.

Here I met my first actual reporter. Richard seemed ancient, though he likely was only 50 or so, had a rumbling voice and stunk of cigarette smoke. He often came in late, sat at his desk with his feet up, read the papers and made a few calls. Those familiar with the show The Wire--imagine Lester Freamon, if he looked a bit like Robert E. Lee.

One evening, driving on the outskirts of town, Richard noticed a large number of people coming out of a dilapidated house. He walked up to them, talked to them, had dinner with them. Turns out they were Mexicans, here illegally, living five to a room, paying an exorbitant rent--they were essentially the imported slaves of a nearby mushroom farm, which, as it happens, was not paying taxes on them, or paying them minimum wage and, as it turns out, was also their landlord, so that the workers actually wound up owing the farm money every month. Richard came back, wrote the story up. The morning that the article ran, Richard came in, smiled and began to sing:

What keeps a man alive?
He lives on others
He likes to taste them first then eat them whole if he can.
Forgets that they're supposed to be his brothers
That he himself
Was ever called a man...

We got a few threatening, anonymous letters. One said: "The farm story is going to be the end of you. You're going to regret this." Well, the newspaper's still around, 17 years later. The farm was shut down a few weeks after the article ran.


The people must have something good to read...on a Sunday!

The Clash, "The Leader."

What was once quaintly referred to as yellow journalism has been an easy target for songwriters, particularly British ones, as the UK's collection of lurid scandal sheets is unrivaled anywhere on the globe. Joe Jackson's "Sunday Papers" from 1979 (on Look Sharp!) offers a slogan for all tabloids--"If you want to know about the stains on the mattress." Hundreds of thousands apparently do.

Or the Jam's "News of the World," a 1978 single collected on Snap!.

"A Letter to the New York Post" is Public Enemy's response to their longtime nemesis, NYC's favorite tabloid, which had delighted in writing stories about everything from Flavor Flav beating his girlfriend to the anti-Semitic rants from former bandmember Professor Griff. On Apocalypse 91.


The relationship between musicians and the music press is less openly antagonistic, though there's still quite a lot of scorn, revulsion, mistrust and cynicism from both parties. Most rock musicians, particularly indie rock musicians, couldn't exist without music magazines putting their pictures on newsstands and trying to convince readers that their latest record is worth buying. Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show's "Cover of the Rolling Stone," from 1973, marks the moment Rolling Stone moved from being a counterculture chronicle to a celebrity arbiter. On Greatest Hits.

And Belle and Sebastian's "Chickfactor" depicts the modern pop-star interview as a combination of flirting, hipster oneupmanship and softball questions. (On The Boy With the Arab Strap).


In songs, as well as in daily life, the most venom seems reserved for the television news, the boll weevils of our once-noble public discourse, the purveyors of noise and glare and flash. Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry," from 1982, distills every criticism of TV news imaginable--it still seems current today, and you can dance to it, too. On I Can't Stand Still.

Elvis Costello's songs about TV news offer newscasters as the advance guard to fascism or worse. Costello's "Green Shirt" (covered here by Hot Chocolate) opens with the singer in love with, yet also dreading, the sight of a female newscaster, who cheerfully reduces the news to pabulum while flirting with the viewers. The green shirt in question could be the anchor's blouse or an army uniform, or perhaps she's already wearing the latter. "Pills and Soap" is, if anything, even more bleak--TV reporters as ghouls, hounding some poor family, or as con artists pushing photos of Charles and Di while the city burns behind them ("The king is in the counting house/Some folk have all the luck/and all we get is pictures/of Lord and Lady Muck") (on Punch the Clock).

You tease, you flirt: the newscaster as dirty old man

It's gotten to the point, as many have noted, that the only respected TV journalist today is a professional comedian and satirist.

"Jon Stewart on Crossfire" refers to Stewart's appearance on CNN's Crossfire in October 2004 in which, in addition to mocking Tucker Carlson's bowtie, Stewart questioned cable news' love of Punch-and-Judy shows in which alleged liberals and conservatives yell at each other and wondered why a comedy network should be held to higher standards than CNN. It was a death blow--soon afterward, Crossfire was canceled. "I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," CNN CEO Jonathan Klein said at the time. The pianist Vijay Iyer and poet/rapper Mike Ladd's take is on Still Life With Commentator.


Rupert Murdoch did buy one of the best-known newspapers in the United States [the Wall Street Journal] and now wants another -- the New York Times.

"It's obviously irresistible to him. I've watched him go through the numbers, plot out a merger with the Journal's backroom operations, and fantasize about the staff's quitting en masse as soon as he entered the sacred temple," Wolff wrote.

Wolff added that before the Democratic primary in New York, he asked Murdoch whom Wolff should vote for and Murdoch's answer was: "Obama -- he'll sell more papers."

"Murdoch Longs to Buy New York Times--Report," Reuters, 3 September 2008.

Well, it's likely only going to get worse, and the papers will let you know about it. Husker Du's "Turn On the News" is on Zen Arcade.


Coming this fall: autumnal songs, natch. & the start of a new epic series--in fact, the most ambitious thing ever attempted here--which I'm sure everyone will just love to bits.

While you're waiting, don't miss this amazing Clarence White retrospective; Ted looks at "Stormy Weather" and early Bird; Setting the Woods on Fire has the originals of Yo La Tengo's "Fakebook" and more.