Category Archives: lists

Music Appreciation: My All-Time Top Ten, Part 2

 

next six

After the recent loss of Prince, I noticed a friend’s post about expressing appreciation for music we love while the musicians are still around. It was somewhat jarring to realize how many of my all-time favorites are already gone, so I felt even more inspired to say something while I still could. Thus last month’s post about 1-5 of my all-time favorite top ten musical artists.

We had a few weeks of technical delays, but I’m back now with Part II, covering 6-9, and a sneaky tie for 10th place.

Johnny Cash Johnny Cash is a fascinating bundle of contrasts- social activist in a genre that was often less progressive, personification of Country who was also a Sun Records first generation Rocker, rebellious sinner who unashamedly preached the Gospel. One could go on, but the real thing that gets me about him every time I listen is the stripped down basic power of his music and the unmistakable sound of his voice. Is it Country? Rock? Heaven? Hell? All of those at once, in one unforgettable Man in Black.

 

Prince I could easily re-purpose a lot of the above to describe Prince as well. Today’s music scene is so segregated by genre that it’s even more amazing now than it was in the 80s how he straddled the divide between Soul and Rock like it was nothing. Not to mention that he was a genuine goddamn virtuoso- he liked to perform with big bands, but on his first two albums he not only wrote and produced the whole thing, he played every instrument himself. Buried at the heart of his music is a fusion of the sacred and the sexual that’s always uneasy and dynamic. How many people before, since, or ever, could make something with a funky beat, a guitar solo that Eric Clapton envied, a complex religious philosophy and hilarious sexual entendre all in the same album? Sometimes even in the same song… I was hooked when I first listened to 1999 at age 12, and I still am today.

 

Kristin Hersh You might think by the next two entries that I started off as a big Throwing Muses fan in the 80s. I was an 80s alt kid, so it would be reasonable to think that, but it’s not actually true. I ran in to Kristin Hersh’s solo work in the early 2000s, when her searing voice, surging chords, and willingness to not hold anything back got me through a lot of desolate-feeling post-divorce evenings. Then I back-filled to her 80s and 90s work with Throwing Muses (realizing along the way that I had favorite songs by them without knowing it was them), and forward filled to her mid-2000s band 50FOOTWAVE. Over three decades, in everything she’s done, she remains a powerhouse who can go acoustic or hard, throws out fiercely intelligent lyrics, and can sing the hell out of a song.

Tanya Donelly Pretty much everything I said above goes Ditto for Hersh’s step-sister and Throwing Muses co-founder Tanya Donelly. Her early 2000s solo albums were more like shimmering lullabies, but were similarly key to midwifing my emergence from a wrecked marriage and hollow way of life, toward reclaiming my true self. And damned if I didn’t then discover her Throwing Muses pedigree, and that she had been the driving force behind Belly, who I adored in the 90s. She tends to be both lusher and more subtle than Hersh, but is no less capable of rocking it out and producing haunting musical creations.

 

Bruce Springsteen When I was first putting together my top ten list, I hit a bit of a stumbling block. My 1-5 were clear as a bell to me. Without too much more thought, I came up with 6-9. But then I kept going back and forth on #10 between the Boss and the Clash. After a while, I realized they actually were flip sides of the same thing that was befuddling me, and decided to put them both in as tie for 10th. The issue was that I’m not always in a Clash mood, but when I am, I like almost everything they’ve done. On the other hand, I only like some of Springsteen, but I’m always in the mood for the version of Bruce that I like. For me, it’s his dark albums and songs that really get me. So, you can have your Born to Run, Born in the USA, and the Rising. Heck, you should have them. I like them too. Sometimes. But I’ll take Darkness on the Edge of Town, Nebraska, Tunnel of Love, Ghost of Tom Joad, and Magic anytime. There’s something about the spooky underbelly of America that nobody gets like Springsteen does.

 

The Clash Which leaves us with the other side of my tie for 10th. I like some of Joe Strummer’s solo stuff, and Mick Jones has made a lot of interesting music post-Clash- Big Audio Dynamite’s first album was one of my favorite things in the 80s. But there was something about the synergy of them together that was on a whole other level. Political without being polemical, rocking as hard as anything that the first generation of Punk came out with, and yet bringing in ska and dub, they continue to do what art should do at its best- inspire, entertain, and disquiet at the same time.

 

Advertisements

Music Appreciation: My All-Time Top Ten, Part 1

top5

I can hardly even tell you what Prince means to me. Despite that, I will give it a try in part two of this post next week. For now, suffice it to say that 1999 was one of the first albums I owned that didn’t feature a Muppet or music from Star Wars. It was a revelation to a rural twelve year-old living in the days before the Internet let you know that there were other weirdos out there. I’ve followed the twists and turns of his musical evolution ever since, and his passing has hit me noticeably harder than most celebrity deaths.

Maybe that’s why it caught my attention when a friend posted an observation last week about how we express our appreciation when someone’s gone, but we ought to do it while they’re still around, and then proceeded to list some of the still-living musicians who’ve had an impact on his life. Reading his post, I reflected that four of my all-time top-ten are already gone. It’s high time to do some appreciating! Forthwith, here are my top five musicians. Presented in chronological order of their debut, because I don’t even know how to approach putting them in an actual 1-5 order. Next week we’ll cover 6-10.

Bob Dylan There have, of course, been many Dylans- earnest folk singer, surrealist 60s troubadour, heartland country poet, born again evangelist, wry and grizzled veteran- I could go on, but the point is I love them all. In every incarnation, his lyrical vision is as idiosyncratic as his voice, and uncompromisingly intelligent. Musically, he draws from the deep well springs of American music, blues, country, folk, with the same fusion of playfulness and mastery he brings to his songwriting.  It’s not easy to be simultaneously utterly earnest and also obviously slyly on the con, but Dylan does it. His creations often already seem timeless at the moment they come out, and the legacy only grows as time passes.

 

The Who/Pete Townshend You’ll notice there’s no Beatles or Stones in this list. Obviously, I’m not arguing that those bands are crap. I love them. We are all required by law to love them. But for me, every time I clear a classic Pete Townshend guitar riff on a Who song, or the plaintive keen of his voice on his solo work, I am instantly transported in a way I am not with those other bands. To a place where the music is it’s own justification. Where there is no history, no fear, no me, just Rock. Long live Rock!

 

Neil Young Again, a voice that instantly transports me, and a fiercely individual viewpoint and lyrical depth to back it up. Those would be mighty weapons were they all that he had in his arsenal, but then there’s the guitar. He can play a country song so straight up that there’s not a hint of irony in it and then (on the same album even) switch to a scorching shredded feedback so damn hard that Grunge immediately recognized him as a spiritual fore-bearer when it arrived on the scene.

 

The Pixies/Frank Black The legend is that Frank Black recruited Kim Deal to the Pixies with an add saying that he was looking for a bass player who liked Peter, Paul & Mary & Husker Du. Now, I like Kim Deal. A lot. So much so that I don’t even think they should call the current band the Pixies without her. But it’s Frank Black’s musical vision,  crystallized in the story above, that most catches my attention in their albums and his solo work since. His music is a place in which surf harmonies and noise pop live together in unquiet peace. Lyrically he’s frequently dark, sometimes hilarious, often both at once, but creates obsidian worlds that are wondrous and unmistakably unique.

 

Nirvana I am always aspiring to reach a place in my writing so authentic, so direct, that the effect is searing and impossible to turn away from. Nirvana, for me, has come to symbolize that place. There’s never a hint of falseness in what they do, and a fresh listen to Nevermind now still reminds you what an amazing thing it was when they burned down the pop charts in 1991. Kurt Cobain remains haunting because he also symbolizes the flip side of having a vision that unrelenting- it can consume itself on the way. For both the promise and the caution, and because they still sound incendiarily fresh twenty years later, I keep listening.

 

 

Monotheism: An Alternative Bibliography

religions_venn

I’ve always been a bit betwixt, spiritually. If you read part 1 and part 2 of the 10-book bibliography of my spiritual evolution, you know a bit about this. On the one hand, I’ve long been interested in various/alternative spirituality and comparative religion. On the other, I’ve also been strongly drawn to the western monotheistic tradition, and had connections with it throughout my life. These days, I don’t sweat the contradiction between these two pulls much, but it took a lot of spiritual searching to get there. And of course, being a bookish type, a big part of that searching involved reading.

In our current cultural milieu, the two loudest voices on this subject are the “New Atheists”, who reject every religious belief that has ever existed as dangerous superstition that destroys everything, and the Christian Fundamentalists, who insist there is only one spiritual truth, and only one exactly literal permissible interpretation of it. If, like me, you aren’t quite ready to jettison the Western religious tradition entirely, but you also can’t subscribe to a traditional interpretation of it, I would recommend the following 10-book reading list as a starting point for exploring a third way of appreciating Monotheism.

 

historyA History of God (Karen Armstrong)– Because Christian Fundamentalism is such a strong voice in our current culture wars (as well as the boogeyman of Islamic Fundamentalism), it can be easy to equate Fundamentalism with religious belief itself, and to think that it has always been so. One of the very useful things I got from Karen Armstrong’s survey of 4,000 years of Jewish, Christian & Muslim thought about God is just how rich a variety of viewpoints there have been in all three religions, and what an outlier 20th/21st century Fundamentalism is. Traditional religion turns out to have never been all one thing, and God is an idea that continues to evolve as all three faiths grapple with it.

 

job Answer to Job (Carl Jung)– Jung starts by looking at the Book of Job, and the thundering non-answer God gives Job when questioned about suffering. He then presents the Gospels as God “reconsidering” his answer, with an outpouring of love and self-sacrifice to relive our suffering. However, this is too abrupt a shift from the sometimes judgmental God of the Old Testament, leaving an unintegrated remainder of the capacity for wrath. And thus we get the Book of Revelation… This fascinating examination of the Bible in the context of psychology and mythology opens up whole new ways to understand scripture.

 

G-CGod : A Biography, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God (Jack Miles)– In many ways, Miles two books follow up on this approach. But Miles instead approaches scripture from the vantage point of literary criticism, examining what kind of character God, as presented in the Bible, is. The first volume covers the troubled evolution of God’s character in the Old Testament, and the second presents the New Testament as a response to the crisis that God’s character comes to,  which is radically resolved through incarnation and sacrifice. Again, coming at things from a fresh direction can break open how the story can reach us today, and what it can mean.

 

rescuingRescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture (John Shelby Spong)– A (now retired) Episcopalian Bishop, Spong made it his life’s work to consider what scripture can mean in the age of science. He points out that a literal understanding as modern Fundamentalism thinks of it is actually a very modern phenomenon, and would have made no sense, for example, to medieval Jewish Rabbis, or classic theologians like St. Augustine. The Bible, he contends, can and should be understood in its original cultural and historical setting, and considered in light of what its essential meaning is in our current setting.

 

 

stalkingStalking Elijah (Rodger Kamenetz)– In his earlier book, The Jew in the Lotus, Kamenetz described the journey from his Jewish upbringing to Buddhism. After it came out, the Dalai Lama challenged his to search for practices of mindfullness in his own spiritual tradition. His resulting talks with several contemporary Jewish mystics uncovers a lively and longstanding tradition of mystical contemplation in Judaism. It turns out that being a Jew and a Buddhist aren’t necessarily as different as one might think…

 

 

 

cosmicThe Coming of the Cosmic Christ (Matthew Fox)– Fox, like Spong, sought to bring new understanding to the church from within, but met with a little more resistance, ultimately resulting in him being expelled as a priest from the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church. One of the key points of the schism was his rejection of the idea of “original sin”, instead focusing on the original blessing of creation, and how a church focused on this can atone for its own sins against women, the unempowered, other faiths, etc. and develop an ecologically-centric, globally-minded and gender-balanced idea of what Christ represents. As Fox says, “The power of native religions to regenerate Christianity and to reconnect the old religion with the prophetic Good News of the Gospels has yet to be tapped.”

 

gospelThe Gospel According to Jesus (Stephen Mitchell)– Starting in the 19th Century and accelerating into the 20th, there has been a lot of scholarship based on archaeology, literary study and the latest discoveries of ancient texts on who the historical Jesus was, and what his original teachings may have been vs. what is later accretion by the Church as it grew. Mitchell wrote this book in an attempt to make that scholarship more available to a lay-audience. He also puts Jesus’ teachings in the context of spiritual traditions from around the world. This book had a profound impact on me when I first read it, unlocking a vitality and compassion in the Gospel message that is all too easily obscured by dogma and history at this point.

 

jesusThe Jesus I Never Knew (Philip Yancey)– Yancey’s book actually does something very similar, but from a diametrically opposite direction. Yancey is a mainstream Evangelical author, but he takes the gospel message down to its fundamentals, and lets every challenging thing that Jesus asked of his followers stand in sharp relief. Again, as with Mitchell, this has a way of cutting through history and dogma, and re-revealing how radical the message of Jesus really was, and remains today.

 

 

 

leftThe Left Hand of God: a Biography of the Holy Spirit (Adolf Holl)– In the fine tradition of Fox, Holl is a Catholic writer and theologian who served as a priest and professor of Theology for almost 20 years until he was dismissed due to conflicts with church authorities. They may dismiss him, but I found his biography of the Holy Spirit to be very arresting. He looks at the third “person” of the traditional Christian Trinity through its affect on a variety of inspired figures throughout history, including Catholic saints, founders of alternate religions, U.S. Pentecostals and Malcom X. This approach leaves the Spirit as it should be, very much alive and active in the world.

 

Those are some of the best books on fresh approaches to western Monotheism that I’ve read. If you have any you’d like to recommend, let me know!

What I’m Reading: March 2016

 

lucy reading peanuts

Now that the Presidential Campaign is on a brief but merciful lull, I can get back to my more usual blog fare: reading, writing, and writing about writing and reading. At any given time, I have several different volumes of several kinds going. Here’s what I’m currently up to:

stnSignal to Noise (Silvia Moreno-Garcia) Book clubs are good. Geeks are good. Speculative Fiction is good.  For all these reasons, and including the lovely people involved, the Geek Mountain State Book Club is one of my ongoing delights. If you know Geek books, you know that some of them can get quite lengthy, so I try and read ahead. So I’ve just started this, which we have up for discussion in May. It’s actually not a long book, but I try and front-load! Too new to say much about it yet, but it involves mix tapes and urban fantasy, set in  Mexico City in the 80s. On subject matter alone, there is approximately a 0% chance that I won’t love it. Speaking of zeroes…

 

NZNonzero (Robert Wright) At any given time, I try to rotate between something from fiction, nonfiction and spiritual (that tricky category that straddles both realms). I’m currently at the non-fiction stage in the rotation, and so am reading this, Robert Wright’s exploration of the “meta-story” of social evolution. It’s been on my list for a long time, ever since I saw it on a list of books former President Clinton was reading some time in the early 2000s. After I finished weeping thinking of “reading” in connection with the then-current occupant of the White House, I made a note to check it out. It’s been well worth it. So far, I’m in the section that reviews the “arrow” of social/technological/economic development running through history. The very hopeful thesis is that, despite the vagaries of history and temporary ups and downs, there’s an underlying trend toward larger scale, increasingly complex societies based on the “nonzero” game of cooperation. I’m really interested in getting to the part where Wright speculates about, based on where we’ve been, where we’re going next.

 

luckyLucky Fish (Aimee Nezhukumatathil) I also have some poetry in the hopper at any given time. On the “new school” side, I’m currently reading the latest volume by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Her work is a wonderment of connections between personal and global history, the natural world, the interior world, and popular culture. Illuminated throughout by wit and compassion. And she is, incidentally, the featured poet in the forthcoming annual print edition of Mud Season Review, a literary journal where I’m the co-editor of Poetry.  We’re thrilled to have her!

 

Robert BurnsPoems and Songs (Robert Burns) And kicking it “old school” on the poetry side, I have this collection by Robert Burns going. If 18th hunner years romantic bards writing in scots sassenach wi’ wit ‘n’ verve ur yer thing, ye micht wantae check this oot. Quite seriously, besides the delight of looking up new words in the glossary in back, the lyrical nature of his verse is second to none. And you don’t just have to take my word for it- Steinbeck, J.D. Salinger and Bob Dylan are all pretty fond of him as well.

 

enigmaThe UFO Enigma (Peter Sturrock) Ever since I was a wee lad, I’ve liked my unexplained phenomenon, and none more so than UFOs. It’s a subject that’s been so thoroughly ridiculed at this point that it’s difficult to discuss seriously. Speaking of signal-to-noise, around 95% of UFO reports are clearly noise- low-quality reports, misidentifications, hoaxes, etc. But there remains a residue of around 5% “signal” that is genuinely baffling and highly unknown to contemporary science. This book is a presentation of the proceedings of a scientific panel brought together by Laurance Rockefeller in 1997 to examine some of the “best evidence” that investigators had to present. I’m looking forward to reading their conclusions, because the truth is still out there…

 

KoranHoly Qur’an  Were we just talking about truth? About 1.6 billion people world-wide consider this to be the most perfect version of a religion that has been continually revealed to humankind throughout history, starting with the Jews, and then the Christians, and culminating here. As a syncretic panentheist I don’t really do exclusive claims to truth. But I do respect spiritual traditions from around the world and throughout history, so I’m almost always reading somebody’s scripture.

 

Buddha If You meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! (Sheldon Kopp)  Take that, scriptures! Sheldon Kopp uses the language of psychotherapy, mythology and numerous religious traditions to highlight what he sees as a universal human journey from looking for the answer from someone else to realizing that it is only found within. This is my “car book”, I read a page or two to provide myself with a moment of zen before heading in to the office.

 

 

JLA_Vol_6_TPBJLA Vol. 6 (Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, Tom Nguyen, David Baron) On the topic of religion and myths, comics writer Grant Morrison thinks superheroes are our contemporary legends. I usually have a comics collection on my Nook for night-time reading before bed, and I couldn’t be happier than with this one. Though I’ll always be a Marvel boy at heart, things don’t get any bigger or more legendary than the heaviest hitters from DC Comics, the Justice League.

 

So that’s what I’m currently reading! How about you?

A Brief Bibliography of my Spiritual Evolution: Part 2

sacred-texts

You may have tuned in recently for part one of my overview of ten books that were key to the development of my spirituality throughout my life. If not, go catch up!

Okay, ready? Last week’s installment covered five books that took me from childhood through my late 20s. We’ll pick up below with five more that take us from there to (roughly) now.

BBimageThe Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous– I first encountered this book at the age of 29, by which point addictive behaviors of various stripes had made my life completely unmanageable. Up until then, I had perused spirituality in an intellectual way. What I lacked was what this book provided, and I could no longer do without: a practical, step-by-step (all puns intended) guide to how to put spiritual principles in to practice in everyday living. Yes the language is a little outdated now (it first came out in 1935). But the common-sense and extremely low-dogma approach to spirituality is as relevant as ever. Over the years, I have heard Christian fundamentalists dismiss its concept of choosing a Higher Power of your own understanding as being too wishy-washy, and Atheist fundamentalists dismiss it as being Christian propaganda. Anything that can stay in a sensible middle of both extremes must be on to something!

televsionaryThe Televisionary Oracle– Some of you may be familiar with Rob Brezsny from his irreverent, fiercely intelligent, and radically freedom-insistent Free Will Astrology column. You may not realize that he’s also written a novel. Or is it a New Age self-help book? Bizarrely presented memoir? Whichever, when I came across this book in the wake of separating from my first wife in my early 30s, it was deeply welcome. It was like having a dear friend to help talk a newly-single, emotionally-raw me through the process of re-discovering who I was. A dear friend who was also crazy, and sexy, and able to pull together multiple threads of the metaphysical concepts I’d spent years reading about. This book also really helped me connect to the idea of the Divine Feminine. I’d heard it before, of course, but reading this book really got me feeling God as a She, which totally changed my connection to Her.

artistswayThe Artist’s Way– If the Big Book helped show me how to practically apply spiritual principles to my life, The Artists’ Way did something similar to the most important part of my life, my creativity. This was also after my divorce, as I was finally getting back to writing, after years away from it. Julia Cameron’s credo in this book is that, “God is an artist. So are we. And we can cooperate with each other. Our creative dreams and longings do come from a divine source, not from the human ego.” But this idea is then put into action through a twelve-week course of daily exercises that allow the reader to re-connect to their creativity, and connect their creativity to their spirituality, in a thoroughly non-denominational way that draws from multiple sources. I’ve been through it twice, and each time it’s turbo-charged my creative process, and led me in new directions. I haven’t worked through it in ten years at this point, so it may be time to do it again…

cosmicCosmic Trigger 1: The Final Secret of the Illuminati– Running in parallel to my lifelong interest in spirituality has been an equally lifelong interest in the paranormal and conspiracy theories. As a kid, I literally kept files of clippings and photocopies of articles on unexplained phenomenon- I recall UFOs, ghosts, ESP, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and several other topics each having their own file. I’m pretty sure Chris Carter owes me some kind of copyright infringement settlement. But what I’m actually here to talk about is how writer/philosopher/maverick Robert Anton Wilson spent his life tuned in to the intersection of conspiracy theories, the paranormal, mysticism, science and religion. And from that, he produced (among many other things) this delightful volume that asserts nothing, implies everything, and encourages the reader to keep an open mind. I’m basically the perfect target audience for this book, and upon reading it in my mid-30s, the paranoia that is the birthright of Gen-Xers like myself somehow turned to profound amusement, and I’ve never looked at things in quite the same way again.

hookedHooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume– This book is actually a collection of essays that addresses the unrest without (consumer culture, capitalist excess, environmental degradation) and links it to the unrest within (addictions, greed, spiritual dissatisfaction). It turns out that Buddhism has been keyed in to this essential human difficulty in experiencing “enough” the whole time, and the voices collected in this volume have a lot to say about possible ways forward through our modern dilemma. Reading this as I approached 40 really helped me see where my decades-long interest in Buddhism could directly speak to both my internal unrest and the unrest of the world whose future I increasingly fear for. In a dark age, it’s important to remember that there are deeper forces in the world, and there’s a chance that our karma may be in the process of working itself out.

And that’s the ten books that have most influenced my spiritual development (so far). I would love to hear some of yours!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four things I’ve avoided by not writing about the 2016 election until now

Capture

I’m going to be breaking from my usual themes occasionally over the next year to talk about the presidential election. I really can’t help it, I’ve been a political junkie for actually longer than I can remember- my mom tells me as a three year old, I was fascinated with watching “the Watergate” on TV. My promise in my coverage: I have my leanings (solidly Democratic). But my analysis will be fact-based, to the chagrin of both leftie friends and rightie friends. You can look back at my postings from 2012 to get an idea of what that will look like.

However, to keep it in synch with my more usual blog themes, this first entry will be in the form of a list. The thing about Presidential politics is, there’s a lot of noise in media coverage that tends to drown out the signal. Before Nov. 1 of the year before the election, it isn’t even worth paying attention to, really, because the early speculation is based on so little, empirically, and early numbers aren’t indicative of much of anything. Here’s a few things I’ve been able to avoid talking about by not writing about it until now:

1. 4 whole candidates! First, and in an originally 22-candidate field, the value of this is not to be overlooked, by waiting I’ve avoided having to talk about Chaffe, Perry, Walker and Webb at all! Especially relieving, because I would have thought Walker had a decent chance at the Republican nomination, so it’s nice not to have to endure the daymare that would have been.

2. Joe Biden. I love Uncle Joe! Always have. He was actually one of my two preferred candidates at the start of 2008 (the other was Bill Richardson, which goes to show you what I know). But it would have been a long shot for him, and explaining that to people imbibing the latest media narrative would have grown tiresome. Now I don’t have to!

3. Arguing about Bernie Sanders. I actually can’t win with Bernie. My small cadre of rightie friends starts in on the whole tired socialist trip whenever I talk about Bernie. And my Progressive friends call me a cynic when I try to talk realistically about his chances (which have been, and remain, low according to every reliable indicator). Then I have my mainline Democratic friends who try to convince me that Bernie is worthless or even dangerous and Hillary is golden. By not writing about the election until now, I’ve at least had some break from this argument.

4. Dismissing Trump. My early take was that he would be gone before voting started, and certainly would not be in the top three by Super Tuesday. I’m glad I didn’t have a chance to write more about this, because I’m starting to question my premise. Nate Silver at 538.com, who I put a lot of stock in, still thinks Trump is ultimately doomed, because he’s so unpalatable to the party power brokers, and they have numerous opportunities in the process to derail him one way or another. It’s a solid argument. But, now that he’s been in the lead for three and a half months straight, is polling first or second in the three first primaries, and actual voting starts in 90 days, I’m a little less sure. I still don’t expect him to be the nominee (my current best guess is Rubio), but he’s actually in this thing for real.

More to follow!

A Brief History of the “Freak” Song

My earliest memories of budding romantic-sexual awareness at grade school dances are punctuated again and again by one thing: the “Freak” song. Having been raised in its Golden Age, I’ve always been interested in its development. So here, from our occasional department of musical obsessions and listomania, is a brief history.

Le Freak (CHIC, 1978) This is sort of the prelude to freak songs, and also marks a vital pivot point in the musical use of the word. There’s still a sense here of the counterculture psychedelic trip sense of “I’m freaking out, man!”, but there’s also feeling the rhythm and checking the ride with a foxy lady at Studio 54.

Super Freak (Rick James, 1981) And now we come to the granddaddy of the whole movement. Here it’s still the scene that’s a little freaky (with the whole incense, wine and candles and what-not) but it’s mainly that she’s a freak through her sexual adventurousness. Also, this song makes me mourn the Rick James we might have had if crack hadn’t taken over.

Freak-A-Zoid (Midnight Star, 1983) We might have stopped with Rick James, and for two years we did. But then Midnight Star came along to tell us that they’d be our Freak-A-Zoid if we’d just wind them up. Thanks guys! And along the way they sparked a freak song revitalization. Thanks again!

Freakshow on the Dance Floor (The Bar Kays, 1984) Whereas the freakiness in the Midnight Star song was overtly sexual, we’re here back to getting freaky on the dance floor, kind of like in the CHIC days. However, there’s also a sense now that we’re the freaks, who are being called to get down as one big Freak Nation.

Freaks come out at Night (Whodini, 1984) Again, the freaks here are mostly dance freaks. When they come out at night, it’s to the dance floor. Although the song does allow that they’re breaking hearts, are real good lovers, and also always have at least one glove, which I don’t think means mittens in this case. This song is also significant in that it brings the freak song into the realm of hip-hop, which sets us up for…

Freaky Tales (Too $hort, 1987) And here we are, at the apotheosis of the freak song. No 60s freak-outs here, no dance floors, just pure NC-17. You shouldn’t listen to this if you’re at work. Or around small children. Or, probably, if you’re a woman. Maybe not even if you’re a man. When you do listen to it (c’mon, you know you will) you’ll see right away why the freak song couldn’t go any further.

These are the highlights, but I may have missed one or two. Let me know if you have anything to add to the list. And Freak Out! In whatever sense of the word suits your fancy…