New Music Writing: Tribute to George Michael, Top Five Records of 2016

In my latest column for Salon, I pay tribute to the late George Michael, who not only wrote, produced, and performed excellent music of irresistible groove and soul, but elevated and celebrated an ethos of mutual pleasure in sexuality. Michael’s treatment of sexuality as an opportunity for reciprocal, erotic enjoyment assaulted both the suffocating Puritanism of Western Culture, and the desire for domination from too many heterosexual men.

Read the essay at Salon.

georgem80

Meanwhile, at No Depression, I provide my personal choices for top five records of 2016, featuring Metallica, Marcus King, Tedeschi Trucks, Blackberry Smoke, and Rival Sons.

ttb_cov_5x5-hi

Weekend Column with Salon: Art is not an escape – It is our most powerful weapon against apathy

I’ve always believed that art is more important than politics. In my new column for Salon, I celebrate art as communicable of the mysteries of the human spirit, generator of hope, and engineer of connection between seemingly disparate points of human experience.

It is for this reason that art becomes critical in times of political trouble. During the current era of American crisis, I reflect on the popular art that sustains and strengthens me – Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Gov’t Mule, and Kurt Vonnegut. Then, I pay tribute to the controversial collaboration between Beyonce and The Dixie Chicks.

Readers can substitute the names of their own favorite writers and performers.

gty-beyonce-cma-jrl-161102_12x5_1600

New Essay at The Guardian on Metallica

I made my debut at the Guardian, writing for the arts section about Metallica. My essay explains why the popular, juvenile, and boring wrap against the heavy metal legends – that they “sold out,” they haven’t made a good record in decades, etc. – is in need of quick and painful death.

Like any band with a thirty year career, Metallica has had their highs and lows, but their entire career culminates into a triumph of hard rock and heavy metal excellence – one of the greatest runs on record in rock ‘n’ roll.

I lead readers through their dynamic music of the 1990s and the 21st Century, ending with their new record, Hardwired to Self-Destruct – their best in years.

Throughout the essay, I rely heavily on the interviews I conducted for my 33 1/3 book on the band’s self-titled record, better known as “The Black Album.”

The book, which Consequence of Sound called “a godsend for Metallica fans,” is available at Amazon and fine bookstores everywhere.

Metallica Cover

New Essay at No Depression: A Jazz-Infused, Twang-Inflected, Southern Rock, Soul Sensation

There is a new sensation in contemporary music. He has arrived in the atmosphere like a full force gale with a sound and fury that is impossible to ignore. His name is Marcus King, and he has assembled a skillful and soulful group of musicians for The Marcus King Band. They move through styles without obedience to categorical regulation of genre; playing with the technical mastery and heartfelt avidity that makes great music great music. His kind has not emerged onto the airwaves for many years.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, music went through an exciting and eclectic period of innovation and variety. The transgression of borders visible and palpable in political and social upheaval underwent artistic emulation in various genres of popular music. The barriers separating these genres began to break. Fusion was the result…

Read the entire essay at No Depression to find out about one of America’s most exciting new bands, The Marcus King Band, and how they fit into the rarefied ranks of Gov’t Mule and The Tedeschi Trucks Band.

the-marcus-king-band-jacob-blickenstaf-2016

New at Salon: Interview with Nathan Rabin on Donald Trump and The Insane Clown Posse

George Carlin once explained that when “you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show, and when you are born in America, you get a front row seat.”

Nathan Rabin, former head writer at the Onion A/V Club, cultural critic and author of “The Big Rewind,” has decided to test the veracity of Carlin’s theory with his new ebook, “7 Days in Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of the Juggalos, and The Summer Everything Went Insane.” Rabin is also able to offer insight into who the real freaks are: Are they fans of the socially stigmatized rap group, Insane Clown Posse, whom the FBI has labeled a dangerous organization and public threat, or Republican Trump supporters? At the risk of spoiling the fun, I’ll mention that the maniacs are not the ones wearing circus makeup.

In his equally amusing, fascinating and moving new book, Rabin chronicles his week in Ohio, attending both the annual Gathering of the Juggalos and the Republican National Convention. As if that were not enough to provide fodder for entertainment and journalism, Rabin spent the seven days with his long-lost brother, allowing him to further reflect on broken families, fractured relationships and the painful consequences of disconnection.

Rabin writes with his characteristic wit, but he also maintains an empathy that is staggering in its profundity and potency. As clichéd as it might seem, when I read Rabin’s account and analysis of Republicans, who frightened him, and Juggalos, who inspired him, mixed together with his own traumatic family history, I experienced the full range of emotional response — rage, laughter, tears.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rabin over email.

Read the exchange at Salon.

usethisoneforamazon

Music Writing: Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, and Gov’t Mule

Recently, for No Depression, I wrote a review of a newly released box set compiling Elvis Presley’s masterful final recordings in the famous Jungle Room of Graceland. Read the essay for my take on Elvis’ unique gifts, his late in life musical accomplishment, and his development of the genre, rhythm and country.

elvis-way-down-in-the-jungle-room-cover-artwork

Shortly after reviewing Elvis, I reviewed a Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band concert at the United Center in Chicago, and used the performance as an opportunity to reflect on the power and importance of hope. Read it at Salon.

3199635

Finally, I crown Gov’t Mule the “best band in the world,” after watching them perform a single set in Rosemont, Illinois. Read my explanation for how Mule surpasses everyone else in the genre, and elevates rock ‘n’ roll to art at No Depression.

govt-mule-anna-webber-770

Announcement: Writing Commentary for No Depression

I am happy to report that I will now, on occasion, write essays, reviews, and commentary for the “journal of roots music,” No Depression.

In my inaugural contribution, I review the new record from Chicago-area Southern Rock band, The Righteous Hillbillies, and in doing so, appraise the value of pure rock ‘n’ roll.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Summer_Front

Interview with Daryl Hall, and Follow Up Essay on Right Wing Insanity

I recently interviewed legendary singer/songwriter Daryl Hall for Salon. We had an interesting conversation about a wide range of topics related to his television program, soul music, his career, and the “backward idiots” who run the music industry. I also asked for his insight on the contemporary debate surrounding “cultural appropriation.” When Hall launched a ballistic assault on critics who cry cultural appropriation over everything from dreadlocks to pop music, I replied with the words “I agree with you entirely.”

The conversation then ended on a friendly note, and it is available here.

A few days later, the right wing social media mob created a weird and warped narrative, more indicative of their narrow worldview than anything else, that I attacked Hall with my neutral question, and that by giving an impassioned response, he “destroyed” me.

As much as I hate to get involved with the right wing insanity that occasionally breaks out after I write an essay or conduct an interview, this was too deranged and demented to ignore. I wrote a follow up essay for Salon, which becomes a reflection on the sad and fragile state of most Twitter users.

Read it here.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone. This website has been static for the past two months, and I do apologize for my negligence.

I’ve been busy writing about everything from terrorism to the godfather of heavy metal, Lemmy Kilmister, at Salon and the Daily Beast.

Like everyone else, I too have written about Donald Trump. I’ve written about religion, economics, and politics, but also about more pleasant topics such as the aforementioned work of Motorhead, the literature of Gore Vidal, and the novels of Jim Webb.

The Daily Beast ran an excerpt from my book on John Mellencamp, while my book on Metallica has received press and great reviews from Consequence of Sound, Record Collector, Illinois Entertainer, and the Chicago Music Examiner.

Make sure to follow this space throughout 2016 for more essays on politics, culture, literature, and music, and for a major update on my next book.

Book Signing