Too many people think of him as ordinary and earthy, compared to Mozart or Beethoven. Yet he composed amazing amounts of pathbreaking, first-rate music, and it wears remarkably well upon repeated listenings.
My approach to Haydn is pretty simple:
1. Some of the early piano music is boring, but a simple availability metric will point you to the best material. The deepest are the six last sonatas, and most well-known performances are quite good. Ax, McCabe, Kalish, Richter, and Brendel are among the first choices, Jando (Naxos) and Buchbinder are good enough to listen to but not preferred. By the way, piano > pianoforte, there was no great stagnation.
2. Listen to as many of the string quartets as you can, with preference given to Opus 76. On average, the later opus numbers are better, yet Op.9 and Op.20 still are worthwhile.
3. Listen to the London Symphonies. Again and again. All of them, Dorati being one option for conductor.
That’s hardly the only wonderful Haydn, but those are the pieces that work best through recordings. See the choral and vocal music live. Most of the concerti bore me, as do the piano trios. Many of the earlier symphonies are good, including the Paris set and the “Sturm und Drang” period, but unless you have lots and lots of time I say focus on the London ones for now.
As the years or decades pass, you will realize you have been underrating Haydn.
The latest instance of the musical death and resurrection show is none other than Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010. Thanks to a hologram (actually a high-tech version of an old parlor trick), the former Black Sabbath frontman will start touring Europe the November 30th before hitting the States next spring. “His” set will change nightly, according to Rolling Stone, and audio recordings were pulled from his entire career. “He” will play each night with a backing band and some dates will have singers Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest) and Oni Logan (Racer X) on stage as well.
Age 46, a Torres Strait Islander, here are various obituaries.
I am in Delaware only briefly. I have not covered the state before, so here are some of my picks:
1. Chemicals manufacturer: I think that one has to go to the Duponts, I enjoyed the Gerard Zilg biography of the Dupont family and history.
2. Economic historian: Alfred Chandler.
3. Monetarist who studied policy instruments and uncertainty: William Poole.
4. Semi-libertarian journalist: Dave Weigel.
Hmm…music? I don’t like George Thorogood. A quality novelist? How about a painter or sculptor? Some big time NBA star? Biden is my favorite of Obama’s VPs. It is claimed that the movie Fight Club is set in Delaware. So many special dishes too, in the local cuisine.
The bottom line: Small wonder it is!
Here is a new interview with Gladwell, much of it focusing on the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Here is one excerpt:
I was more than interested to discover how much of the work on these effects—which in education they call “same race effects”—has been done by economists. If I’m a social psychologist, the economists are eating my lunch. They’re doing very persuasive, very elegant studies using these data sets that come out of the education reform movement. The economists are the first to jump on it. I feel like that is rich hunting ground for social psychologists as well, and they can bring a perspective to the analysis of that data that the economist can’t.
I’m not criticizing the work that’s been done by economists, but if you read it, you will notice that there is a beat that’s missing—they’re economists, so they come at it from a different perspective. I would love to see social psychologists go over that same data and interpret it their way. And that again would be something that would be insanely useful to the conversation we have in this country about how to make schools better.
And here is Malcom on his next book:
MG: Yes. I’ve started a new book, and it very explicitly comes out of the world of psychology. There was a paper that Lee Ross wrote 50 years ago, maybe 45 years ago, called “Shortcomings of the Intuitive Psychologist.” It’s a famous paper, and I’m tearing off a little, tiny piece of that argument and having fun with it.
DN: And what piece is that?
MG: I’m interested in how we deal with strangers. How good are our intuitive ideas about dealing with strangers? I haven’t thought it through entirely, but I’m fascinated by what it means to deal with someone who you don’t know and, most importantly, whose credibility you cannot assess easily. Strikes me as a very contemporary problem, and from a psychological perspective, super interesting. There’s just so much fantastic psychology on that question.
The brief discussion on rock and roll vs. country music was interesting as well.
What’s bad for [the now trade-restricted] K-pop is excellent for Chinese musicians, who are seizing on the opportunity. One group skyrocketing in popularity in the absence of K-pop “idols” is SNH48, a Shanghai-based girl band that has a rotating cast of members—somewhere around 220, depending how you count the generations—and just raised more than $150 million from investors last month. If the idea of girl-band investors seems odd, you should know that SNH48, whose performers are voted in and out by fans, is far more of a corporate business than a music group. Per the Financial Times (paywall):
“Unlike western pop, which trades on authenticity and the idea of performers singing from the heart, SNH48 is run more like a tech start-up than a musical group. Taking its inspiration from Japanese group AKB48, instead of a core group it runs on teams of interchangeable singers—a strategy managers hope will allow it to build generations of young female stars and longer-lasting revenue streams.”
Fans use a mobile app to track their favorite singers, send notes to them, and watch their livestreams. The band’s managers carefully curate new teams of performers every year, which is similar to how South Korea’s massive K-pop factory is run.
Is this a good idea? A whole station devoted to Beatles music and Beatles music-derived products, plus a few early musical inspirations? I ask as a fan, not a critic. Based on about a week of listening, here are my impressions:
1. No Beatles songs were better live. Paul McCartney had a few gems in concert, most notably the 1976 Wings over America “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Oddly, “Magneto and Titanium Man” is also better live, perhaps because it was silly to begin with.
2. There are too many extant versions of “Here Comes the Sun,” though Nina Simone had a good one.
3. Ringo songs from the early 1970s, while you would never listen to them voluntarily, hold up OK in this context.
4. The worst feature of the channel is how they use short bursts of Beatle songs to advertise the channel itself. To play only the first few chords of “Getting Better” is an abuse of the ear and maltreatment of the art, like seeing Mondrian designs on shopping bags. Why can’t the station just advertise itself by…playing Beatle and Beatle-derived songs? In their entirety.
5. The last sequence of “Rain” still seem to me their finest moment. “Let it Be” remains the most overrated major Beatles song.
6. The early solo songs are what are most welcome to hear, at the margin.
7. The way this station operates doesn’t mesh well with the rest of satellite radio. No single station on satellite radio is that good, except for the classical music station. Yet the medium as a whole works because you can always switch to another station, especially with voice activation. Yet one is reluctant to switch away from the Beatles station. Even if the current song is bad, you feel something wonderful always might be coming up, and besides most of the songs are pretty short and so they will be over soon. But if it’s just the Beatles you want to hear, you don’t need satellite radio to achieve that end. So a funny kind of intransitivity kicks in, and maybe the Beatles satellite radio channel can nudge you away from satellite radio altogether, precisely because it is better than all the other channels, and it thus pushes you away from an approach based on a diverse menu of DJ-driven choice.
8. Would it hurt to play more Dylan, a major influence on the Beatles?
If you can play the “Imperial March” in less than 12 parsecs, you’ll want to check out this highly customized Millennium Falcon piano up for auction on eBay. The piano starred in a popular YouTube video featuring pianist Sony Belousova turning out an impressive medley of Star Wars music.
Hat tip goes to Ted Gioia.
- Lupe Fiasco — The Cool (2007 Lupe’s peak as an artist, this and Food & Liquor. He has a tragic fall from grace in the rap game)
- Blu — Below the Heavens (Also an older classic underground album, Blu was a prodigy who never quite made it)
- Phonte — Charity Starts at home (Phonte from Little Brother’s first and only solo album)
- Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (The best of two legendary MC’s)
- J Cole — Forest Hills Drive
- Homeboy Sandman — First of a Living Breed (My favorite artist because he’s a true poet.)
- Common — Be (Common produced by Kanye in 2005)
- Chance the Rapper — Acid Rap (Chance’s first mixtape that propelled him to the national spotlight)
Some of it I knew already, in any case I thought these were very good selections…
Johnny Rogan, The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited, The Sequel, get the full-length edition, not the much shorter 1980 volume.
Chris Twomey, XTC: Chalkhills and Children.
…in addition to the very recent Dreaming the Beatles, which I just reviewed.
NB: These are music books and I am not even recommending them to most of you. These books only make sense if you already know a good deal about the careers of the artists involved.
Here is my advice on how to find excellent management books and management advice: pick some areas you know fairly well, be it music, sports, military campaigns, a scientific discovery, the making of a historic plane flight, or whatever. Read a very detailed book about that. Think through the lessons of that book(s). Unfortunately, books about corporations so often filter their management information through homilies, hidden agendas, NDAs, ego boosts, paybacks, and other forms of…bullshit. Music and sports books won’t, as they are too concerned with other kinds of stupid filters. But you will get the lowdown on management for the most part.
There are some special reasons why I find the Byrds and XTC fruitful areas for reading for management advice, above and beyond my knowledge of the history and the musical content. Neither group was massively profitable in a sustained manner, though they had their successes. The two histories contain both triumphs and some major mistakes. The main creators worked very consistently at their music for decades, and were not afraid to take chances or to operate with a long time horizon. Nor did they destroy themselves, even though they were fatally flawed as creators. Both histories are also studies in small group dynamics, including their eventual collapse; the Byrds are more a story of changing personnel and its costs. Both histories embody tales of retreat and also return, and an ongoing evolution of styles and media. Both stories have (relatively) happy endings, but only for those who kept at work rather than partook in indulgences. Those features may or may not apply to your own personal circumstances, choose your management books accordingly, but I those kinds of stories more interesting than say books about the Rolling Stones.
If you can find books such as these, they are among the most valuable you will read. Yet it is very hard to find them through recommendations, given the idiosyncratic nature of the content and its relevance. Of course that is precisely why they have such high marginal value.
Over the past eight years, Scarlatti (a pseudonym he uses to keep his avant garde hobbies separate from his straight career), his brother (aka Ancient Pine), and a childhood friend who records under the name Pendra Gon, have been countering music’s increasing ease of availability by releasing recordings on formats intentionally designed to be difficult—or even dangerous—to play: Albums with ink screenprinted over the grooves. CD-Rs that have been made into air fresheners by having herbs glued all over them. Cassettes covered in shards of actual broken glass. (Scarlatti says his two partners are largely uninvolved in Auris at this point.)
“It never really started as a record label,” Scarlatti says. “It started kind of as a weird idea about releasing music that you couldn’t listen to or purchase. We never really could manifest a logical way to implement that, which is why it sort of evolved into the label. I guess it was more of an absurdist digital performance art, is what the idea was.”
Absurdity—specifically a kind of surly noise-geek strain of neo-Dadaism—runs through all of Auris’s “anti-releases.” For a recent cassette by LATHER, who constructs noisy arrangements out of piles of broken electronics, they removed the teeth in the tape’s reels, rendering it unplayable. A sold-out tape by Unholy Triforce called Some Assembly Required came in the form of a kit that a listener would have to assemble before playing. Scarlatti released one of his own compositions as a length of unspooled magnetic tape.
The author is Rob Sheffield and the subtitle is The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World. So far this year this is my favorite book, in part because it stretches genres in a creative way. In addition to being a study of fandom, celebrity, 1960s history, “how boys think about girls,” and of course the music itself, it is most of all a splendid take on small group cooperation, management, and the dynamic between John and Paul. I enjoyed every page of this book, and learned a great deal, despite having read many other books on the Beatles. Here is a typical passage”
The Beatles invented most of what rock stars do…They invented breaking up. They invented drugs. They invented long hair, going to India, having a guru, round glasses, solo careers, beards, press conferences, divisive girlfriends, writing your own songs, funny drummers. They invented the idea of assembling a global mass audience and then challenging, disappointing, confusing this audience. As far as the rest of the planet is concerned, they invented England.
A few of the more specific things I learned were:
1. For a while Stanley Kubrick was planning on making a movie version of Lord of the Rings with Paul as Frodo, Ringo as Sam, and John as Gollum. George was to be Gandalf.
2. When the cops raided Keith Richards’s mansion in 1967 and found cocaine, they threw it away because they had never seen it before and didn’t know what it was.
3. When Paul McCartney played an acetate of “Tomorrow Never Knows” for Bob Dylan, Dylan’s response was “Oh, I get it. You don’t want to be cute anymore.”
4. The French title for “A Hard Day’s Night” was Quatre Garcons Dans Le Vent, which translates roughly as “Four Boys in the Wind.”
The book is funny too:
I always loved this sentence in Our Bodies, Ourselves, the Eighties edition I had in college: “The previous edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves included a brief section on astrological birth control, which just doesn’t work.” So much going on in that sentence, dispatched with no drama. Maybe a shade of irony, but no hand-wringing — just a change of mind announced as efficiently and discreetly and decisively as possible.
Paul has a compulsive need to feed his enemies all the ammunition they could want. The software of “don’t take the bait” was never installed in his system. No celebrity has ever been easier to goad into gaffes. I love that.
As Lennon snapped in 1980, after getting asked one too many times if they [he and Paul] still spoke, “He’s got 25 kids and about 20,000,000 records out. How can he spend time talking? He’s always working.”
On the revisionist upswing in this book are Rubber Soul, “I’m so Tired,” “It Won’t Be Long,” and John Lennon’s “God.” On the revisionist downswing is Let It Be and Paul McCartney’s “My Love.”
Not for the unconverted, but I’m glad to see people writing books with me as the intended audience. Here is a quite insightful review, in which Chris Taylor writes: “…it may be the first book to encompass the entire Beatlegeist. If aliens land tomorrow, and demand to know why we keep on pumping this particular brand of music into space, this is the first book you would hand them.”
I loved The Dispossessed as a kid, though The Left Hand of Darkness was considered the best of her novels.
I am about to read The Word for World Is Forest. The idea of space travel privileging homosexuality really struck me as a child. Perfectly practical and nifty idea. Why shouldn’t there be something that gay people are more suited for?
That is interesting.
Reproduction in space travel is a really bad idea. So gay people are the way to go.
The interview is interesting throughout.
Here is Rufus Wainwright:
What’s the biggest financial mistake you’ve made?
Signing a publishing deal years ago and asking them to throw in a piano. I thought they were gifting me a piano, when in fact I was just paying for the piano. I was confused by the big leagues—financially, it was a no-man’s land. That happens to most musicians. They get screwed by the industry. It’s a rite of passage. Don’t ask for a piano!
Here is Lee Daniels:
What do you wish you’d known about money before getting into showbiz?
That half of it goes directly to the government. And another 20 percent goes to your representatives, so that’s 70 percent of your income right there. You’d better make some money, honey! You’ve got to put $15 of that $30 away for your retirement.
Is that what you did?
No, of course not! That was the learning experience. It took me 34 years to find that out!
It is striking that none of them refer to “The d word,” namely diversification. (Priyanka Chopra does mention she bought land in Goa and Mumbai, and that it worked out very well for her.) Though you also have to wonder if that is not part of the reason why they rose to the top of their respective crafts. Rather than setting for a sufficiently happy and complacent normal existence, perhaps many kept doubling down on what might have been fundamentally unsound bets.
Here is the full piece from Bloomberg.
Marco Bresba emails me:
I loved your post on how Food has displaced Music in pop culture (March 29)
I’ve been thinking about the topic for years, and I believe complacency is pertinent.
Musical taste (like one’s taste in wine, food, books, etc.) provides a measure of social currency. It’s a way into a clique you want to join but admittance requires work.
Music no longer provides much of an effort barrier. Mention the most obscure band and I can become an expert in a few hours.
This was not always the case. Rewind to 1985: a classmate mocks me with “I bet you never heard of The Smiths.” He’s right. How do I get up to speed and become cool?
None of my radio stations play the Smiths. One channel teases me with a 3-hour alternative block every Sunday. The cool indie store is a bus ride away. And their inventory is spotty. The good stuff is imported form the UK. A domestic compilation is rumored for next year. Until then, would I be interested in the latest Cure single? They have one copy left. Only $9.99. I pick up the NME instead.
I hit a bunch of used record stores. Every second day. Two weeks later, I find one of the Smiths’ less popular singles. At this rate, I’ll be a fan by the time I graduate high school.
In our age of convenience, food still requires long term planning. At least the stuff foodies value. Will anyone care if I order Massaman Curry on Uber Eats? No. In order to become an elite foodie, I have to leave the house. I must shed my complacency in various ways:
- I accept a 90 mins line-up to nab a seat at a Celebrity Chef Pop Up.
- I have to befriend an annoying waiter at a hipster party just to find out how to secretly order raw pork at a suburban joint 45 mins away.
- I worry I don’t have enough referrals to get invited to the newest alternative supper club.
- I depend on the cheesemonger that only works on Saturdays to point out the best seasonal stinky varieties.
- I stay up till midnight that one night Pied de Cochon accepts resos for their Sugar Shack months away.
- I scold myself for not planning my Italian trip a year in advance – my bucket list meal at Osteria Francescana now in jeopardy.
In addition to the reasons you mentioned, food obsession will always hold currency because it still requires plenty of legwork. Music just needs an internet connection.