Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Brooklyn's MLK concert series

A friend of popculcha sent in this review of the MLK concert series in Brooklyn, Monday, July 27. BK!

“Giving You the Best…”

The Martin Luther King Jr. concert series in Brooklyn’s Wingate Field has taken place every summer for the past 27 years and showcases the biggest names in gospel, soul, R&B, ska and calypso, but as New Yorkers and aficionados across the tri-state area know, these Monday evening concerts are best known for bringing R&B legends and pioneers to this corner of “the BK.” Last night was no exception. Some 12,000 people, many wielding portable chairs and small battery-powered fans, packed the concert field, to see Charlie Wilson of the legendary Gap Band, and Anita Baker, the eight–time Grammy-winning songstress. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Senator Charles Schumer welcomed the crowd (with the latter reminding everyone “I live in Brooklyn, shop in Brooklyn - I breathe Brooklyn! I’m the first senator from Brooklyn in a 140 years!), and then, arms linked with Anita Baker, Mayor Bloomberg came on stage and introduced Charlie Wilson.

The heat and humidity did not slow down or distract from the 56-year old Wilson’s intense performance, as he belted out Gap Band classics (“Early in the Morning” “Outstanding”) and his most recent hits, including “Beautiful” recorded with Pharell, and “There Goes My Lady.” Wilson, who had all but vanished from the music scene since the 1980s, made a dramatic comeback this decade with two solo albums, including Bridging the Gap which produced the hit “Without You” and the more recent “Charlie, Last Name: Wilson.” “Uncle Charlie,” as his friend Snoop Dogg calls him, regaled the crowd: one moment he was doing the “running man” and other lively routines, with his four scantily-clad background dancers (who also doubled as violin players), and then he’d shift into slow jam mode, crooning, writhing, unbuttoning his shirt, drying himself with a towel, in creative renditions of tracks like “Yearning for Your Love” and “Let’s Chill” – a number originally done by the Guy. Midway through the show, Wilson pointed at the sky, and in gratitude for his successful comeback, and his recovery from prostate cancer, gave a stirring, hooping-style tribute to Jesus.

By the time Anita Baker came on the stage, the humidity had lifted, and dusk had settled over the field. As the multi-platinum chanteuse sang her classics (“Sweet Love” “Caught Up in the Rapture”) her voice felt as balmy as the breeze that had now stirred over Brooklyn. She sang “Angel,” in honor of all the children in the audience, some of the youngsters had by now dozed off in their mothers arms. “Mommies, thank you for your bringing your babies. Entire families can come to my shows – aunts, uncles, mothers and kids can come to my concerts. No one will be offended, everyone will be enriched with something lovely.” (Her own teenage son was playing guitar.) Baker concluded the evening with her 1988 single “Giving You the Best,” but cries and cheers brought her back out to perform “Fairy Tale” and another encore – before the elegant songstress bid everyone good night and exited the stage.

It was close to midnight as attendees began filing out of the Wingate field. Donna White, a kindergarden teacher from East New York, looked exhilarated, “I come to these concerts every year, and this show is the greatest. Charlie Wilson is a phenomenal person. I was so moved when he talked about his struggle, his spirituality, where he was and where he is now – that was so inspiring for our youth.” Fati Tanriverde, an exchange student from France, appeared awed, “It’s extraordinary, a free concert of this level of talent – the grande dame of R&B comes to Brooklyn, and I get to see her. What an honor!”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

“How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll”: Elijah Wald

Book review from today's New York Times. Sounds intriguing. Here are some pithy excerpts:

if you’re looking, as Wald’s subtitle has it, for “an alternative history of American popular music” — specifically from the turn of the 20th century to roughly the mid-1970s — you’ve found it...

While Wald never says in so many words that the Beatles destroyed rock ’n’ roll, he does take a stance several degrees removed from standard-issue Beatles worship. He suggests that their ambitious later work, widely hailed as a step forward for rock, instead helped turn it from a triumphantly mongrel dance music that smashed racial barriers into a rhythmically inert art music made mostly by and for white people...

[Wald] has set himself a deceptively simple task: to write about the popular music of the last century by concentrating on what was actually popular, and to figure out why people — not critics or historians but the people who bought the sheet music and the records, listened to the songs on the radio and went to the ­dances — liked it.In doing so he ends up taking aim, for example, at the notion that mainstream pop music in the early 1950s was mired in white-bread mediocrity, as embodied by the likes of Perry Como, until Elvis Presley and company came along to rescue it...

He also makes a case for the importance, and the lasting influence, of artists like Paul Whiteman, a bandleader who was phenomenally successful in the 1920s and ’30s but has rarely received anything more than grudging respect from music historians, and has more often been either attacked or ignored.

In his heyday the appropriately named Whiteman was billed as the King of Jazz, which in artistic terms he clearly wasn’t; Wald acknowledges that his often syrupy music is less interesting than Fletcher Henderson’s or Duke Ellington’s. But he also says that no matter how corny it may sound to contemporary ears, it deserves to be taken seriously — not least because Whiteman’s admirers included, among many others, Henderson and Ellington. (While white musicians have long drawn inspiration from black musicians, he points out, the inspiration has sometimes flowed in the other direction as well.)

And he finds parallels between Whiteman — who commissioned “Rhapsody in Blue” and whose quasi-­symphonic approach was said, in the unfortunate terminology of the time, to have made an honest woman out of jazz — and the Beatles. Whiteman, he explains, took a music that had been seen as rough and uncouth and made it respectable to a wide audience; the Beatles did the same thing with the string-quartet elegance of “Yesterday” and the operatic grandiosity of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Walkman: 30 Years

(Douglas Kirkland/Corbis)

From Dan Barry, in the Sunday New York Times "Week in Review" section, a meditation on the 30th anniversary of the Walkman:

Thirty years ago this month, the Sony Corporation made a huge contribution to human interaction by ensuring there was less of it. No longer would people who did not want to engage the world have to stick fingers in both ears and say, over and over, “La, la, la, I’m not listening!”

Wrong! Or just simplistic, and banal. As the book, Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman (du Gay et al) suggests, the Walkman connected one to the social world, the world of pop music, of youth culture, of mass media.

And just look at the image that accompanies the article (reproduced above). Is this Walkman user really just thumbing her nose at the world?

(Useful classroom exercises for the du Gay volume here.)