New Article at Splice Today: Ruthie Foster and The Gospel Impulse

One of the most talented, moving, and inspirational singers in American music is the phenomenal Ruthie Foster. More than nearly any other contemporary American singer, she expresses, exercises, and exemplifies what Craig Werner calls the “gospel impulse.” In my new essay for Splice Today, I write about the importance of Ruthie Foster’s music, and the deficit American culture suffers for not giving her a bigger platform to share with the world her unique and powerful voice and vision. Read it here. Ruthie Foster’s new single, “Singing The Blues.”

New Entertainment Writing for The Daily Beast

Recently, I wrote some critical essays for the Daily Beast. The first was on the comeback tour of Garth Brooks. I had the opportunity to interview Brooks for the essay. We discussed his music, his evolving role in country music, and music culture in America. Brooks was a boyhood idol of mine – my first musical love. While I still respect and admire him, I don’t have the same love for his music. That being said, I enjoyed his concert, and was thrilled to meet him. Read the essay here.

Shortly after interviewing Brooks, I had spoke with Sean Jablonski, the creator of the USA series, Satisfaction. Satisfaction, unlike much of American entertainment, intelligently and maturely deals with the complexities of adult sexuality. Jablonski and I had an interesting conversation about his show, sexuality, American culture, happiness, and his own Buddhist inspiration. Read the essay here.

New Essay for the Daily Beast: Bobby Womack’s Sexual Democracy

After the sad death of soul legend, and rhythm and blues, funk master Bobby Womack, I immediately wrote a tribute. Not only was Womack one of my favorite singers, he was also a passionate and powerful advocate for mutual pleasure – sexual democracy – in romance.

Unlike rap and unlike rock ‘n’ roll, but very much like the tradition of soul that formed Womack in the womb of musical greatness, his sexual testimony is one of mutual pleasure. It is an expression of masculinity that gains lasting, body-aching, and spirit-raising pleasure only if the man is comfortable and confident in the assuredness of giving a woman pleasure.

Read the rest of the essay at the Daily Beast.

Major Announcement: New Book on Metallica’s The Black Album Coming from Bloomsbury Publishers

Bloomsbury Publishers recently announced that they will publish my book on Metallica’s self-titled record, more commonly known as The Black Album, as part of its much celebrated and acclaimed 33 1/3 series.

For the book, I have already interviewed the principal players in the making of the album, including current members of Metallica – James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, and Kirk Hammett, former bassist Jason Newsted, and Metallica’s former producer, Bob Rock.

The book is a must read for Metallica, metal, and hard rock fans, as I will give up close and personal details, received personally from the band, into the making of The Black Album, and I will examine the importance of Metallica’s music, along with the philosophical depth it possesses.

For more information read the official announcement at the 33 1/3 page.

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New Essay for The American Conservative: Rock for Republicans? How the GOP Misunderstands John Mellencamp’s Heartland Ethic

A few months ago, the editors of The American Conservative flattered me with an invitation to write an essay on the the career and politics of John Mellencamp, and consider why so many Republican politicians play his songs at campaign rallies, when he is a liberal.

The essay – “Rock for Republicans? How the GOP Misunderstands John Mellencamp’s Heartland Ethic” – appears in the newest issue of The American Conservative, which has a focus on localism.

Mellencamp writes what he calls “plainspoken” lyrics. There is no other songwriter who moves me to think, feel, and reflect deeply on my life and my community more than Mellencamp. As I attempt to explain in the new essay, his politics, however, are complicated. There is no doubt that he is a leftist, but “his is a community-based leftism that distrusts bureaucracy and hates paternalism, yet believes in social assistance for the poor, sick, and hungry, the widows and orphans that the Bible identifies. Mellencamp inhabits common ground with libertarians on social issues, and he is a consistent opponent of war and foreign intervention, but he does not believe that an unfettered free market will solve every social problem.”

mellencampcigaretteMellencamp’s firebrand version of antiwar, left populism is exactly what is currently missing from the ivy league, elitist, and impotent liberalism of the mainstream media, the Democratic party, and the sanitized neighborhoods of lefty chic where people believe the world’s biggest problems are plastic bags, inadequately sized bicycle paths, and indoor smoking.

Next year the University Press of Kentucky will publish my book All That We Learned About Living: The Art and Legacy of John Mellencamp. In the book, I will elaborate on Mellencamp’s politics and further draw out interpretation of how his music embodies many important ideas about the American story.

Politics will make up only one chapter of the book, as it is comprehensive and covers Mellencamp’s entire life, but readers who enjoy my essay for The American Conservative, should look forward to additional reading next year.

New Essay for The Atlantic – “Kid Rock, Progressive Hero: Why He’s Right to Charge $20 Per Ticket”

In a capitalist culture and free market society, it is hard to make the argument that any business people should voluntarily charge less money for their product or service than people are willing to pay.

Multimillionaire rock and pop stars leave themselves vulnerable to criticism, however, when they claim to represent and sing for the common man, and present themselves as populist defenders of the dignity of everyday people.

It has become the norm for popular bands and artists to charge hundreds of dollars for admission into their concerts. The current model of exorbitant fees exists only because of the greed of the superstars, and the masochism of fans who pay the absurd costs for a two hour performance.

In my new article for The Atlantic“Kid Rock, Progressive Hero: Why He’s Right to Charge $20 Per Ticket” – I condemn the avarice of The Rolling Stones, Jay Z, and other major musicians who suck every ounce of blood possible from their fans, and I reserve special ridicule for U2, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen, who charge over $100 for tickets, while they sing about helping the poor and bash the greed of politicians and corporate CEOs.

Kid RockThere are few exceptions to the practice of gouging music concertgoers. Garth Brooks enforces a $25 maximum for his ticket prices, despite incredible demand. Brooks has broken records in Missouri, Tennessee, and Canada in the past five years for fastest sell out times. Dave Matthews explains that if he charges $30 per ticket, he will break even on major tours. So, he charges between $40 and $50.

Kid Rock has emerged as a new exemplar of compassion and selflessness in his business policies by co-headlining a tour with ZZ Top, and promising that no ticket will cost more than $20. He is also lowering T Shirt prices from the laughable industry standard of $40 to $20.

It is important to acknowledge that it is not the “champions of the working class” or “social justice” advocates, like Springsteen and Bono, who are taking a pay cut to help more fans afford their concert experience, it is the registered Republican, Romney supporting, Kid Rock.

As I explain in the article, it is my hope that Kid Rock’s new tour will embarrass other rock and pop stars into lowering their ticket prices, if only so that their anthems of liberal outrage don’t provoke enough laughter to drown out the drumbeat. I also hope that it will encourage more music fans to reward bands that respect them, and punish those that don’t.

Neil Young charged $200 for his latest tour, and when he played Chicago last summer, I asked my friend who owns an independent record store in Northwest Indiana why he wasn’t going to attend the show. He answered with words to live by – “I’m not throwing money at the feet of millionaires anymore.”

New Column at PopMatters – Queen of Disco: The Legend of Sylvester

My new February column at PopMatters takes a biographical and analytical look at the life and career of Sylvester.

Sylvester was one of America’s greatest singers, and he, unfortunately, remains one of American music’s best kept secrets. He came up through the church and infused all his music with a gospel fire – from disco to jazz; from rock to soul.

subtlesubversion-sylvesterjames-500As mush as his music offers listeners enjoyment, his life offers Americans insight into courage, creativity, and integrity. Sylvester was flamboyantly gay, but did not quite fit into the gay minority. He was a transvestite, but did not quite fit into the transvestite minority. He was black, but did not quite fit into the black minority. He was a Christian, but did not quite fit into any Christian minority. He certainly never fit into any majority.

My new column – “Queen of Disco: The Legend of Sylvester” – tells the fascinating and moving story of Sylvester. Anyone interested in American music, unorthodox Christianity, or the development of social progress since the 1970s, should read it.

I discovered Sylvester’s music after watching a documentary on his life aired by the television network, TVOne. I’ve long been a fan of Prince, and after hearing Sylvester sing, scream, and shout in his trademark falsetto, I realized that Prince had been ripping off Sylvester’s vocal style for decades. Because of the obscurity of Sylvester, Prince was able to successfully pull of the heist, and escape from the scene of the crime, undetected.

A reader who follows some of my writing emailed me with surprise and confusion over where Sylvester fits into my musical palette. He seems like an unlikely choice thrown into the mix with John Mellencamp, Warren Haynes, and Bob Seger, but the most resonant lesson of Sylvester’s life is that an interesting person – and a good life – evades category.

Sylvester’s spirit spoke to me, and with a voice as beautiful and big as his, who could resist?

I Interview Guitar God, Soul Hero, Blues Master, and Rock Legend Warren Haynes

Without any embarassment, I will quote myself – “Warren Haynes is the greatest living practitioner of blues-based, soul-inspired rock ‘n’ roll music. I’ll stand on the kitchen table of Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, or Bruce Springsteen and stomp and shout it if one of them will invite me over for dinner.”

That was my lead into my first interview with Warren Haynes, conducted and published just under a year ago. We discussed his stunning solo album, Man In Motion, soul music, and living with dedication to artistry and creativity.

I took an unconventional route of discovery to the vast body of work that makes up Warren Haynes’ accomplished career. I first met his music as a solo artist. Man In Motion and Tales of Ordinary Madness have become two of my favorite albums, and after seeing Haynes put on a virtuoso live performance, and reviewing that performance, I started diving into the recent work of The Allman Brothers – on which he plays guitars and often sings – and the catalogue of Haynes’ own band, Gov’t Mule.

It is his latest release with Gov’t Mule that is the topic of discussion in my new interview with Haynes. Gov’t Mule has put out a new box set of complete live shows from their first tour in 1996.

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In the interview, “Getting Away with Murder: A Conversation with Warren Haynes”, Haynes and I also discuss the future of music, timeless music, jazz, and his frienship with Derek Trucks.

In addition to being an extraordinary singer, songwriter, and musician, Haynes is also a fun and fascinating conversationalist. He has an easy, but insightful style of communication that both provokes thought and invites engagement. It was my pleasure to speak with him, and its been my pleasure to listen to him music.