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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
My new book, Mellencamp: American Troubadour, is now officially available from the University Press of Kentucky, and all book retailers.
Salon recently ran an excerpt, and it is already receiving high praise.
Part biography, part cultural and sociological commentary—with a touch of hagiography/fan nonfiction thrown in—Mellencamp is almost a new genre. Masciotra’s observations, contributions, and asides are apt and diverse. Both Mellencamp’s work and the man himself are deeper than they appear, and this book really shores this up. — Susan Compo, author of Warren Oates: A Wild Life
David Masciotra writes with the precision and integrity and humanity of a great journalist, one whose word you can trust. He knows his subject, and his prose and reporting are always informed by the lights of compassion and decency. — James Lee Burke, author of Wayfaring Stranger
For almost 40 years, John Mellencamp has been forging a path through the thickets of the music industry, meditating on the connections between rock, soul, folk and funk. In the process, he’s established himself as a major artist whose work is sometimes obscured by the shadows of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. In this detailed, loving book, David Masciotra shines the light of his critical intelligence on the connections between Mellencamp’s life, his music, and the commitment to a deeper understanding of our shared humanity. — Craig Werner, author of Up Around the Bend: An Oral History of Creedence Clearwater Revival
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.”
My publisher, Bloomsbury, recently interviewed me about my upcoming 33 1/3 book on Metallica’s self-titled record, more commonly known as The Black Album.
Read it here.
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.
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.