“Race Music” (Music, Magic & History, Part IX)

“Race Music” (Music, Magic & History, Part IX)

It’s hard to really hear her voice with all the jigaboo music — whatever you want to call it — jigaboo!  – Kristi Capel, Fox News anchor, referring to a performance by the Italian-American artist Lady Gaga (2015) As becomes obvious when you look at the history of modern music (explored in previous articles from this series), racism forms the bedrock of music as we know it now. The loathsome “triangle” slave trade forced people from West and Central Africa together with European colonists (some of whom owned slaves, many of whom did not), along with the Scottish, Irish, and Read more »

Iron Men and Diamond Dogs (Music, Magic & History, Part VIII)

Iron Men and Diamond Dogs (Music, Magic & History, Part VIII)

…those born of the underground had found the massive financial rewards of their commercial success overwhelming, and misspent the better part of the music’s artistic currency. That failure of nerve had simply and tragically reduced rock’s practical power to the power of business. – Fred Goodman, The Mansion on the Hill (Though largely absent from the airwaves, the original Black Sabbath changed the face of rock.) Social unrest and abhorrent popular culture spin a number of musical experiments into full-blown movements during the 1970s. Although metal, punk, reggae, and other styles can be traced back to the 1960s – and Read more »

Sucking in the ‘70s (Music, Magic & History, Part VII)

Sucking in the ‘70s  (Music, Magic & History, Part VII)

It was as if Morrison had foreseen the Manson-esque destruction of the hippie idyll, confronting the dysfunction of hippie kids initially liberated by sex, drugs and music but now disoriented, frightened, and potentially dangerous. – Barney Hoskyns, from the liner notes for the 2007 expanded CD edition of the Doors album Strange Days (As with the ’70s themselves, folks often forget how dark this movie really was.)    Magic has a price. And as the late ‘60s slide into the early ‘70s, the musical bill comes due. By the time President Nixon resigns and the last U.S. helicopters flee Saigon, Read more »

The Times, They Are A’Changin’ (Music, Magic & History, Part VI)

The Times, They Are A’Changin’ (Music, Magic & History, Part VI)

I throw myself on the altar of your art. Publicist Diane Gardiner, to Jimi Hendrix Change comes from unlikely places… in this case, coffee dens, German nightclubs, second-hand blues records, and a collection of recordings made decades ago. In the backwash of rock’s first tide, creative misfits take the lead. England, Germany, France and other nations catch rock-n-roll fever even as it dies down in America; here, though, many fans prefer authentic blues to the whitewashed product humming on U.S. airwaves. An armful of blues and rock recordings sparks one of music history’s most significant partnerships; Keith Richards re-encounters his Read more »

Mystic Rhythms: Rumble (Music, Magic & History, Part V)

Mystic Rhythms: Rumble (Music, Magic & History, Part V)

If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars. – attributed to Sam Phillips, owner of  the Memphis Recording Service, and the man who “discovered” Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley (incidentally, Phillips denied having ever said this) (Arguably the first rock-n-roll recording, Ike Turner’s “Rocket ’88′”) It starts with the blues riffing of a poor boy named Bo Diddly. It rises in the duck-strut of a handsome dude named Chuck Berry. It ignites when a white truck driver catches “that Negro sound” in the gyrations of his Read more »

Mystic Rhythms: Anything Goes (Music, Magic & History, Part IV)

Mystic Rhythms: Anything Goes (Music, Magic & History, Part IV)

The sound is the freedom. The chord don’t mean nothing.– Ornette Coleman, interviewed in Andrew Zuckerman’s book Music   (Image from Powerchords: Music, Magick & Urban Fantasy; art by Bryan Syme) If blues is the Devil’s music, then its offspring – jazz, country, soul and rock – are its four horsemen. Thundering across electric highways, these fertile musicologies plunder everything they find. Jazz shares the outlaw origins of blues, but focuses more on instrumental prowess than personal catharsis. Supposedly named for sexual intercourse, jazz takes the most sensual elements of European, African and American music, and then heats them to Read more »

Mystic Rhythms: Music, Magic & History (Part I)

Mystic Rhythms: Music, Magic & History (Part I)

The first sounds a child hears are the rhythms of his mother’s heart. At birth, he breathes deep and cries loud. To the child, all things are musical… and as we grow older, music often helps us return to that childlike fascination. It’s primal, elemental, something beyond words even when it employs them. Music invokes a transcendental state – literally “crossing up and across” from one state to another. Is it any wonder, then, that faeries adored Thomas the Rhymer, or that aliens spoke to humanity through song in Close Encounter of the Third Kind? The harmonies, vibrations, beats and intervals of music guide the waves of Read more »

Mystic Rhythms: Symphonie Fantastique (Music, Magic & History, Part II)

Mystic Rhythms: Symphonie Fantastique (Music, Magic & History, Part II)

The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. Johann Sebastian Bach Civilizations grow to empires, and empires spread. Musical traditions blend with one another, sharing modes, instruments and inspirations. Notation, style, instruction and instrumentation attain a dazzling complexity, striving to capture – in rigid forms of wood, metal and ink – an art too fluid to hold on to. Although some cultures keep “common” forms of music that anyone could share, most develop elite refinements that only specially-trained people can perform. Three distinct modes evolve: courtly Read more »

Mystic Rhythms: Ride the Lightning (Music, Magic & History, Part III)

Mystic Rhythms: Ride the Lightning (Music, Magic & History, Part III)

Now we can hear the voices of the dead. Remark overheard at the premiere of Thomas Edison’s phonograph The spark bursting from electrical energy in the late 1800s ignites an explosion of technology. Innovations of sound recording – first on rolls, then on discs, record albums, magnetic tapes, CDs, and eventually bytes of information – allow music to transcend the moment of performance and become what Led Zeppelin would later call “physical graffiti.” Thomas Edison unveils the phonograph in 1878 – a practical refinement of Lèon Scott’s phonoautograph, which appears first in 1857. Bulky and fragile, these hand-cranked instruments literally Read more »