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Book Review: Tina Fey, Bossypants (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)

By Lydia Holt
If I weren’t the sleep-deprived mother of a sick child, I probably would have stayed up late into the night to finish 
Bossypants by Tina Fey all in one go. As it was, I had to swallow my guffaws so as not to wake the aforementioned sick child.


I Am Not Descended From Egyptian Pharaohs, and That's OK

By Lydia Holt

I love what the girls of Watoto From The Nile did in their video/letter to Lil’ Wayne. It was a superb critique of misogyny cleverly disguised as hip-hop, and their video brought up an aspect of black American culture that has long been a bur in my saddle. 


« The Subtleties of Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” | Main | People All Over the World »

Music that is “…for all the world to see.”

By Nichole Rustin-Paschal

To watch “A Band Called Death,” followed by “Sound City,” and ending with “NY 77: The Coolest Year In Hell,” is to be draped in sheets of sound that sometimes suffocate with their relentless, frenetic energy and sometimes comfort with the nostalgic evocation of time and place. From Detroit to Burlington, from Seattle to Los Angeles, from the Bronx to SoHo, these documentaries depict the emergence of punk rock, disco, and hip hop as reflecting particular socioeconomic, geographic, and racial experiences of late twentieth century youth culture. “We are here, we are here, we are here.”

“A Band Called Death” recounts the fantastic resurrection story of a punk rock band of black brothers from Detroit. David, Dannis, and Bobby Hackney, taught always to back up their brothers, formed a band in the early 1970s, playing music that veered from “traditional” black music genres like gospel and R&B to rock; they played rock so loudly and gleefully the police were called several times to the family home. Despite their recognized talent, nobody wanted to record a band called Death and David, the eldest brother and leader, refused to change the name. His brothers argued with him about this privately, but accepted his decision. “Death” grew from David’s encounter with mortality, a tragic car accident leading him to think about life, music, and faith more deeply than he had before. David believed in the importance of Death’s music, despite the continued rejection the band encountered, and that people would come looking for their music, structures the story of the band’s history. Their music lives now because of family, because of record collectors, an intrepid reporter, and fans for whom the music represents truth.

In “Sound City,” David Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana, having taken his mother's advice, crafts through the history of a soundboard at the acclaimed recording studio, Sound City, an engrossing story about the transformation of the music business and the art of musical collaboration in the wake of digital technology edging out analog recording techniques. Grohl insists, and shows through the scenes of his own collaborations with other musicians in making the film, that music is intensely intimate, and is at its most expressive when musicians work together in live, musical dialogue. Analog recording technology represents an ideal setting for this dialogue because it forces musicians to make decisions about what they will create and how within the context of set parameters. Digital technology makes it all too easy and sanitizes what ought to be truthful expression of musical ideas. The engineers, producers, and musicians Grohl films echo him as they recount stories of how music brought them to Sound City. Within the limits of their recording budgets and the technology itself, those who recorded at Sound City found freedom.

The oldest of the films, “NY 77: The Coolest Year In Hell” focuses broadly on the state of New York City in 1977, viewing that year as a turning point politically, culturally, and musically for a city that had reached its lowest point financially and socially. Nearly bankrupt, wracked by the leadership of an inept mayor, rising rates of crime and poverty, New York’s woes were the fodder for music practices that shaped a generation. The history told isn’t new, but it resonates with its depiction of a gritty, grimy, but beautiful seventies era New York whose bravado, speech patterns, dance rhythms, and sartorial style continue to influence us. NY in the seventies was free, but the cost has been its “Disneyfication.”

These films explore how and why music is born—through the dialogue musicians engage in as they arrange a composition in preparation for recording, through the transformation of material disadvantages into dynamic art, through the awkward embrace and rejection of new technologies to create and record, through the knotty racial intricacies of influence, ownership, and reception, through the intensely individual work of learning an instrument inside and out such that it reshapes your subconscious, and through the social networks that keep music alive.


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