Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Deep Focus

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

His Own Wavelength

It’s not that there wasn’t a self-referential pop culture before “Weird Al” Yankovic; it’s just that those of us under forty might have a hard time remembering it. Just as difficult to imagine are those who, even after all these years—after all the albums and songs and verses, after all the puns and parodies and poetry—still think of Weird Al as nobody more than that guy who rhymes about food over popular music. Weird Al engages the entire culture, in all its functions and facets, through his lyrics, his videos, his original musical-style parodies. Just how he does it all remains a mystery no matter how often he explains it.

When he explained it to me recently, by Skype, he said much that I’d never heard before, even though, like most culture vultures my age, I’ve followed his career since the early eighties. And if a lot of those early songs did in fact find their rhymes in the names of food, it’s also true that a lot of them did not. His songs have become more intricate with each new album, even as they’ve become more expansive. And more popular, too. It’s easy to forget that Weird Al’s career, after an early but tough start, nearly failed to make it very far out of the eighties. It wasn’t until his parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (“Smells Like Nirvana”) that he safely established full traction and momentum.

Read the rest at the Paris Review

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Duane Allman, Skydog, Explained

Jimi Hendrix lived nearly three years longer — that’s the kind of premature we’re talking about when we talk about the premature death of Duane Allman, who died less than a month before he would have turned 25. It happened when the motorcycle he’d been riding just a moment earlier came slamming down on top of him, crushing bones and viscera and sending him skidding 90 feet from all the momentum that comes with crashing, at illegal speed, into the rear end of a delivery truck.
A death like this — at that age and under those circumstances — leaves a lot to lament, and, since 1971, people have been lamenting plenty. They’ve been lamenting especially hard lately, this being not just the 45-year anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band’s formation, but also, we’ve been told, the year they will discontinue, this time for good.

Nixon Bids Farewell

Outside the White House gates, crowds spent the night chanting, “Jail to the Chief.” On August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon delivered his resignation speech via live broadcast and then managed a few hours’ sleep. At 4 a.m. his watch stopped, its battery at last run down on this, his very last day in the White House, the day he made his farewell remarks to the White House staff. It would be his final speech as a professional politician and, whether he knew it or not, his masterpiece. For sheer shamelessness, for raw naked honesty, for pathos and bathos, for autobiographical allusion and psychological revelation, there’d never been anything from a president quite like it, and there hasn’t been anything like it since.
Delivered in a moment of crisis, amidst a profound depression that would last for months, the emotion he exhibited in the speech was real. Everyone in the room felt it. Henry Kissinger in his memoirs would call the speech “one of the most dramatic moments in American history,” “an elegy of anguish,” “as rambling as the previous night’s had been disciplined.” His wife, Pat, was none too pleased “that after all the agony television had caused us,” as Nixon would write, “its prying eye should be allowed to intrude on this last and most intimate moment of all.”


We don't choose our obsessions; our obsessions choose us. If we chose them, then they wouldn’t be obsessions; they’d be pet projects or hobbyhorses. They wouldn’t be ways of life. They’d be a thing found within the space of our own personal realms, rather than a thing that determines the very shape of those realms. For the people profiled in David Kinney’sThe Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob, Bob Dylan is certainly a bona fide obsession, and not always of the healthy kind, either.
Some would say there are no healthy obsessions. I would say they’re wrong. There are healthy obsessions. There are obsessions that have chosen us because they are integral to our lives — because they conform to the contours of our consciousness. There are obsessions that make the world’s weight less lumberous — that enhance rather than diminish our vitality and verve. And there are obsessions, finally, that answer to no peer pressure, either in the affirmative or the negative — that obey their own orbit, oblivious to opinion.