A new Bob Dylan interview

Bob_Dylan_-_Azkena_Rock_Festival_2010_2Bob Dylan has a new album coming out at the end of the month:  Triplicate.  It’s a triple album–the equivalent of three CDs–and it’s more standards, his third album in a row covering Sinatra-style songs from the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s.  Stardust.  Stormy Weather.  Sentimental Journey.  (Go to the Amazon link above to see what songs are on the album.  You can buy some of them individually already, though the album won’t be released until March 31.)

In conjunction with the album, the Nobel laureate has posted on his website a wide-ranging and fascinating interview with author and TV producer Bill Flanagan.

He talks about Minnesota, his childhood, his early career, but mostly he talks music.  He explains what he loves about these songs, while also showing that he keeps up with contemporary music.  Showing an encyclopedic knowledge of music, Dylan talks chords, charts, styles, and phrasing.  We see Dylan as a performer and also as a music producer, explaining what he looks for in a drummer, what he tries to do in the studio, explaining how he sequences the songs on his albums.

For an overview of the interview–nice phrase, if I do say so myself–read this.  From Rolling Stone, here is a link to “Bob Dylan’s Surprise, Extensive New Interview: 9 Things We Learned.

After the jump, a link to the interview itself.  Read it all, but I quote his answers to only two questions: one on the different styles in his singing;  and one giving his reflections on the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. [Read more…]

Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry

The pioneering rock ‘n’ roll guitarist and songwriter Chuck Berry died.  He was 90 years old.

I saw him perform at his St. Louis club Blueberry Hill.  He must have been in his 80s.  But what energy he showed!  What joy!  What connection with his audience!

After the jump, a link to an obituary story that goes into detail about just what it was about his guitar playing and his songwriting that made them so good.

Also, read this interview from 1987, in which Berry confessed that his favorite kind of music is big band.  Also how he wrote from a teenager’s perspective even though he was an adult and far older than his rock musician peers such as Elvis.  And why he wasn’t bitter that white musicians like Presley and the Rolling Stones made much more money from his music than he did.

In memory of “the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” here is a clip of him playing at Blueberry Hill in his 80’s.  Yes, his voice is about gone, but listen to him playing the guitar.  Like ringing a bell.

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A religious revival in music?

Chance_The_Rapper_2013Major rappers like Grammy-winner Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar are now rhyming about Jesus.  So are groups like indie-rockers Saintseneca and the post-punk Protomartyr.  So are singer-songwriters like Sufjan Stevens.

Marc Barnes says that “every genre of music is undergoing a religious revival.” But music critics don’t know what to do with it.   

I am way out of touch with what is going on in contemporary music.  Those of you who follow it, is there really, as Barnes says, a “spiritual revolution that has already changed the face of contemporary music”?

Read what Barnes says about this after the jump.

Photo of Chance the Rapper, Wikipedia, Creative Commons

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Trumpism as the new punk rock

Sex_Pistols_in_Paradiso_-_Johnny_Rotten_&_Steve_JonesA young former-buttoned-down conservative at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) said that he has moved to the alt.right because it feels like “the new punk rock.”  Scott Galupo of The Week discussed this with Daniel Wattenberg, a former punk rocker, now a respectable editor.

Wattenberg disassociated punks with the alt.right, but he did see a connection to the Donald Trump phenomenon.  He said, “I have to say, it does feel similar in a lot of ways, psychologically and emotionally,”

Wattenberg says that Trump and his supporters are to traditional conservatives as the punks were to the hippies.  Trump and his supporters are to professional politicians as punk music was to progressive rock.  Also, both Trumpism and punks are “transgressive” in defying political correctness.

Wattenberg and Galupo unpack those observations and more  after the jump.
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Grappling with Bach’s theology

bach-787703_640Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker has written a fascinating piece on Bach’s theology.  He says that while much research of the past tried to look at Bach in purely secular terms, today’s scholarship is attempting to unpack the musical impact of his Lutheranism.

Ross reviews several recent books on the subject, including one that tries to read into Bach’s music elements of anti-semitism, as if that is what Lutheranism is all about.  (Despite Luther’s senile ravings at the end of his life, Lutheran theology at the very least removed the stigma that Jews are to be blamed as Christ-killers–what the book in question is looking for in Bach’s Passions–since Lutheran theology sees Christ’s death as the result of all human sin, making possible their redemption.)  In reading the review of the books, which touches on the struggles and spiritual dynamism reflected in Bach’s music, I was struck by how little outsiders know about the distinctive, unique  elements of Lutheran spirituality, such as the contrast between Cross and Glory, and the spiritual desolation known as Anfechtung.  These would be highly relevant to Bach’s music, accounting for some of what these scholars otherwise struggle to explain.

But I love Ross’s close readings of Bach’s music, particularly, St. John’s Passion, in which he shows the Biblical and theological meaning of the musical structures the composer employs.  I love this quotation of one the authors:  “Marissen identifies himself as an agnostic, but adds that in the vicinity of Bach’s music he will never be a “comfortable agnostic.”  I love that so much of this research draws on the copy of Bach’s annotated Bible held by Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, which Ross discusses.  And I love the overall question asked by this article and by the books themselves:  How is it that music based on such archaic theological ideas can connect so profoundly with people in our time?  (I would answer that Bach is evidence that Lutheranism itself, properly understood, can connect profoundly with people in our time.)

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Theological music for Christmas

Ken Myers has written a wonderful post on Christmas music, emphasizing particularly how it is sung by choirs and its connection to worship in the liturgy.  He includes a fascinating discussion of how music can be a contemplation of divine mysteries, as in the harmonies of this piece, “Mirabile mysterium” to this text:

“A wondrous mystery is declared today, an innovation is made upon nature; God is made man; that which he was, he remains, and that which he was not, he takes on, suffering neither commixture nor division.”

The composer is Jacob Handl (sometimes called “Gallus”), not to be confused with George Friedrich Handel.  Read what Myers says about it after the jump.

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