Suffering Succotash

DVD: Before the Music Dies — This documentary by my fellow Austinite Andrew Shapter is essential viewing for anyone who ponders the state of music even if I do find it a succotash of disparate and often contradictory opinions from musical artists, critics, music industry types and fans. For someone as intimately involved with music and opinionated about at as I am, I feel a bit like Dorothy Parker after viewing, as there’s no there here—a central thesis to be made and greater understanding that it might convey. Some of the points made and musical examples they offer of those who defy the system may have caused me to groan in frustration, yet it still doesn’t undermine the cumulative effect of its look at popular music in our day and age. And the fact that it is made by music fans and not mavens means that the more casual music lover will find much here to ponder. (www.beforethemusicdies.com)

Newsletter: The Lefsetz Letter — If you find my commentaries in these pages on music and the industry interesting, be it for better or worse, you might also want to subscribe (free) to this newsletter by commentator Bob Lefsetz, which is widely read within the industry and beyond. The misadventures of the music business and thoughts on music today and from the past certainly fire Lefsetz to make interesting and often provocative observations. And as much as I often feel like I’d like to debate points he makes, there’s no denying his passion and often outspoken approach, which for all my differences with what he says I can’t help but admire. In the same way that the above documentary piques both my assent and argumentative ire, depending on what’s said, Lefsetz is a fan with both an insider and outsider perspective, all of it based in a love of popular music and concern for its current state as an art and a business. His newsletter can be sampled at his website (www.lefsetz.com) where you can also sign up to receive his regular missives.

Music DVD: John Martyn: The Man Upstairs — For far too long now I’ve been mystified at how discerning American music fans have come to revere British post-folk geniuses Richard Thompson and Nick Drake yet still ignore their peer Martyn, arguably the most talented and visionary of the three, who were friends and shared the same record label and producer in their early days. From a Celtic folk base, Martyn stretched the guitar-playing singer-songwriter mold into everything from progressive jazz to Jamaican dub with an ingenuity and fire that is stunning, and then land back on the root of it all with songs of disarmingly simple power like “One Day Without You” and “May You Never” that would be classics if the public ever heard them (which fellow Martyn fans like Eric Clapton and Phil Collins have tried to encourage to little avail). Few musical artists transfigure the art into something new and different, and Martyn is one of those rare ones who does, especially on this compelling and sometimes even incendiary 1978 taping for the legendary German TV concert program “Rockpalast.” If you want to discover an unheralded musical genius to get passionate about, Martyn is the man.

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2008

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