Tuesday, June 26, 2012

James Brown, Bootsy Collins, and the Birth of a Sound

Bootsy Collins in his James Brown days

If it’s true that James Brown really was The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business—and there’s ample evidence in RJ Smith’s The One: The Life and Music of James Brownthat he just might have been—then the members of his bands, all the various members from all the various bands, would have to be tied for a close second. The martial discipline he enforced—fines levied, curfews imposed, days-off denied, even ideas poached—made for a frequent turnover in musical personnel, often en masse. When band-members left, it often broke him, but then the fresh blood came right in and brought new life all over again. It makes you wonder if Brown’s special kind of crazy really knew what it was doing all along.
Take the matter of Bootsy Collins. We might as well; it’s one of the odder stories Smith has to tell, and one of the best-sourced. That’s really saying something, right there, but it’s also one of the most consequential, at least for those of us who grew up on (first in the form of sampled rap breaks, and then, retroactively, the original songs themselves) the sound Bootsy and Brown made together. Bootsy soon took the sound with him to George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, where it got refined and amplified, and that’s a part of the story too, of course, a big part. But I don’t know if anyone’s told the first part of the story more subtly or substantially than Smith does here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Interview with Dick DeBartolo on the Art of 'Mad' Satire

Dick DeBartolo’s first piece for Mad was published in 1962, when he was still in high school, and his work has appeared in every single issue since June 1966. He has written for sections throughout the magazine, but his greatest claim is as a satirist of movies and TV shows—that is, as a writer of the kind of elaborate pop-culture parodies that have, arguably, been the magazine’s signature brand of humor ever since they began running them regularly, about a dozen issues into their existence.

The influence of these satires—as written by DeBartolo as well as Harvey Kurtzman, Larry Siegel, Frank Jacobs, Arnie Kogen, Stan Hart, Lou Silverstone, Desmond Devlin, and others—has ranged well beyond the realm of illustrated humor, or even comedy generally; it’s entered the cultural water supply, enriching the work of filmmakers, politicians, authors, actors, and advertisers. Once you’ve acknowledged this, you’re only one short step away from acknowledging DeBartolo’s particular influence on culture at large.

DeBartolo is most famous for Mad, but it isn’t the only thing he’s done. He saved The Match Game from impending cancellation in the sixties by suggesting the playful style of questioning that made the show a hit; he’s reviewed consumer gadgets—currently for ABC World News andThe Weekly Daily Giz Wiz podcast—since the seventies; and in 1995, he penned a memoir, Good Days and Mad: A Historical Hysterical Tour Behind the Scenes at MAD Magazine.

It’s hard to be curious about the nature of pop culture without also being curious about how Mad has gone about satirizing it. I recently asked DeBartolo to elaborate on his precise methodology.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Re-'Ram': A Paul McCartney Classic Gets Another Release

Paul McCartney, when laying down the Ram sessions in the early 1970s, was partially preoccupied with the Beatles breakup. So was George Harrison, whose All Things Must Passwould come out the same year, 1971. Both albums are said to contain material meant for the Beatles, but Paul, as the one suing for the band’s dissolution, was also the one in violation of his Beatles contract by using his material for non-Beatles purposes. That’s why the album is credited to “Paul and Linda McCartney,” and just because no one believed him doesn’t mean he didn’t get away with it.

Read the rest at The Faster Times