Music is a Better Noise

I've been teaching in the History Department at Lehman since 1999, and I've also served as Chair of History (2005-2009) and Dean of Arts and Humanities (2009-2012). Between 1985 and 1998, when I was a student and then a professor at Harvard, I did a music fanzine called Incite!, and for most of that time I also ran a small record label called Harriet. Most of my blogs will be about music, much of which you might not have heard of; but my other interests (British history, in particular) will...

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Beyond Björk

I am slowing turning Scandinavian, one pop song at a time.  The latest stage in my transformation crept up on me during a recent trip to Iceland, in which Icelandair greeted me with more than a dozen Icelandic pop CDs to listen to on the trip, followed by some choice discoveries in record stores that called Reykjavic home.

Until a few years ago, the only Icelandic musician I knew anything about was Björk Guðmundsdóttir, in all three of her manifestations: as singer for the anarcho-postpunk...

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Three Chords, Fifty Years

Fifty years ago this week the Kingsmen, a band from Portland, Oregon, recorded “Louie Louie,” which should get a commemorative postage stamp if anyone mailed anything any more (actually, especially because they don’t). In many ways, that recording both launched and came to typify the genre of music roughly known as garage punk.  This genre was in full swing by 1966, faded from the scene by 1968, but refused to die.  Successive generations of bands since the mid-80s have been reviving,...

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This Whole Funky World is a Ghetto

When I was eight years old I was impressed, in the physical meaning of the word that only music and lithography are capable of, by Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire,” which was a big hit in 1971. His layered shouts jumped out of the speakers and landed in my ears, and there they’ve stayed for forty years. I heard that song a lot on the radio in the mostly-white Pacific Northwest of the early 1970s. I heard “The Whole Funky World is a Ghetto,” by Bobby Patterson, for the first time last...

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Saint Thomas of Norway

 

Many of my stories seem to start in record stores.  This one starts in the first half of the last decade, when I spent a month or so out of each year in London, where a must-visit was the since-closed Rough Trade record shop in Covent Garden. They always seemed to have at least one CD that changed my life, just a little bit, every time I visited: Ballboy’s “The Sash My Father Wore and Other Stories” was one, and “Hey Harmony” by Saint Thomas was another.

This story doesn’t have a happy...

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Great Danes

If you had asked me two years ago to name a single band from Denmark I would have come up mostly empty. This has changed since then—not by much, but the ones I can name are all worth knowing about. They also tend to blur into one another: there’s Ghost Society-Sara Savery- Kirstine Stubbe Teglbjaerg- The Blue Foundation-The William Blakes… and then there’s The Rumour Said Fire, off in a very tidy room by themselves, and Sleep Party People, in a blurrier room with a window view.

Of all these, Ghost...

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Bohemian Rhapsody

Whenever I’m in a faraway place for the first time, one of my priorities is to figure out where the best record stores are and find my way there. This almost always results in finding something I’ve been seeking forever, or something astoundingly new, at least to me (it also usually results in my getting lost). When I was in Prague in July, the consensus was that the record store I needed to visit was called Rocksters. I nearly missed it, since it was tucked away in an alley and up a flight...

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Chinese Rocks, Part 2: Shanghai

One of the bright spots in this year’s Stony Brook Film Festival (which is in its 17th year, well worth the trip if you have some time next July) was “Shanghai Calling,” an unassuming romantic comedy about a Chinese-American lawyer’s travails in the new China.  It was mainly valuable for its depiction of “Americatown,” the community of North American expats who have discovered different ways of adapting to their new home away from home.

An expat survival strategy that “Shanghai Calling”...

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Chinese Rocks

Three years ago, I made a mix-CD for a friend of mine who works on Chinese history, with the best songs I could find at the time (my search wasn’t exhaustive) of interesting Chinese music.  The result was only intermittently spectacular: I started with “There is a City” by Hang on the Box, whose 2004 CD “Foxy Lady” still remains a favorite, and “Game Song” by Dragon Tongue Squad, also from 2004, the only amazing Chinese hip hop recording I’ve yet uncovered.  The rest was largely filler,...

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