My new Nation column is called “Why Do Journalists Take Delusional Presidential Candidates So Seriously?” and was written even before Donald Trump made things far stupider. You can find it here.
Today’s list: Interesting and (mostly) relatively obscure cover songs:
My favorite songs are those with the power, for whatever reason, to change my mood all by themselves. When asked to create a playlist for “Paper Cuts,” years ago, I tried to figure out a criteria for this process but gave up since it’s obviously so personal. I thought I needed a theme though, so I made a list of terrific but not-terribly well-known cover songs. These are great mood changers because they force you to look and think, “Is he (or she) really singing that? I never realized what a great song it is.” Or at least they do for me. If you click on the link above, you’ll find explanations for why I chose most of them.
Comfortably Numb, Roger Waters, Van Morrison with the Band
Put a Little Love in Your Heart, Al Green and Annie Lenox
I Fought the Law, The Clash
Cowboys to Girls, Chris Gaffney with Lucinda Williams
The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp, O.C. Smith
Follow that Dream, Bruce Springsteen
Ode to Billy Joe, Henry Kaiser
Positively 4th Street, Lucinda Williams
Brilliant Disguise, Elvis Costello
To Sir with Love, Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant
Walk Away Renee, Southside Johnny
Sugar, Sugar, Wilson Pickett
Goodnight, Irene, Brian Wilson
Air That I Breathe, The Mavericks
Que Sera Sera, Sly and the Family Stone
Somewhere, Tom Waits.
Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Bryan Ferry.
Wedding Bell Blues, The Roches
Johnny 99, Johnny Cash
Like a Rolling Stone, The Rolling Stones
Stand by Me, John Lennon.
Bonus: Four years later, I made this list of Springsteen covers for David Remnick. For some inexplicable reason, it does not include the fantastic “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love,” among a lot of other great songs he did in the later, “Stump the Band” period.
Governor’s Ball by Eve Alterman
The Wire, The Complete Series (BD) [Blu-ray]
The Complete John Lennon Collection on Vinyl
And some other stuff…
Governors Ball is one of the highlights of the year for youth around the tri-state area. We gather ourselves in pods surrounded around a smartphone as we wait for the website to buffer to then finally tell us who will be greeting us on Randall’s Island on the first weekend of June. This year, the lineup that was released couldn’t have been more diverse with headliners from nearly every genre. Drake represented the rap-loving crowd, Lana Del Rey for the pop listeners, the Black Keys for the blues-rock enthusiasts, and Deadmau5 for the EDM/dub step devotees. Even Weird Al Yankovic was scheduled to make an appearance. As expected, when June finally arrived, the group of people standing on those long lines in the sweltering heat to enter the festival were less than similar. I saw teenagers in small pieces of cloth they appeared to believe to be clothing. I saw young adults in their mid-twenties frowning at said teenagers. I saw a few couples in their late sixties with lawn chairs. I even saw families with toddlers and strollers.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the first day of GovBall because the satanic college board decided that they wanted to schedule the SAT IIs on that weekend. However, I did make sure to book my testing site as close to the Randall’s Island foot bridge as possible in an effort minimize the amount of time missed. I arrived on the island at about 2 on Saturday afternoon.
The best act of the weekend that I saw was hands down Flume. It’s common at an electric concert to get bored in the middle because everything can tend to sound the same. However, with Flume, every song was drastically different from the next. The energy in the crowd rose monotonically as time progressed and by the time he played his biggest hits, the crowd was in euphoria. There wasn’t one person not dancing. As the bass pounded against the speakers you could feel it radiate through you and everyone jumped and swayed in a collective movement. His songs provoked an emotional response in the crowd. The next day my Instagram feed was flooded with Flume photos and videos, thanking him for the unforgettable time—I saw very few photos from headliners.
After Flume, the entire crowd stampeded to the stage at which Deadmau5 was performing. Deadmau5 started off as a disaster. His set malfunctioned causing his songs to pause repeatedly. Additionally, his lack of energy completely transferred to the crowd. The only energy that came from the crowd were the optimists who were forcing themselves to bounce their hands and heads to the beat as a way to try to convince themselves they hadn’t wasted their night and their feet didn’t actually hurt that much. When the biggest drops came the only thing dropping was people’s energy and level of enjoyment. I only used the beat to scroll through photos that I took during Flume at a tempo. The guy seemed drained, and we were too. The crowd around me started off strong, with plenty of girls on shoulders and everyone ready to end the night strongly. As time progressed, everything started to sound the same, everyone started to sober up, and the phrase “let’s leave” became less and less rare.
Similarly to Deadmau5, Lana Del Rey also had technical problems. The speakers in the back weren’t working, making it very difficult to hear what was going on. I could hear the girls next to me singing along much louder than I could hear Lana. Her best song of the set was “Off to the Races” mostly because it was a change of beat—most of her songs sound very similar—slow and emotionally charged. I’m sure if I were a particularly big fan of hers, I would have enjoyed myself more, but from an outside perspective, it was a bit boring. That has to do with Lana though, not with GovBall.
Alt-J unexpectedly had a fantastic performance. He came out on the stage excited to perform, even though the people waiting for him didn’t seem as much so. Quickly however, excitement began to build as he played remixes of popular artists like Drake and Jay Z. He was very humble and seemed to still be in awe of the excitement and size of the crowd despite this not being his first time.
Governors Ball was a fantastic experience and I have yet to hear anyone tell me they didn’t have fun. I can’t wait for what next year will bring.
End Eve Alterman
Back to Eric:
Following up on last year’s Sopranos box set, HBO is giving us 20 discs, 3,645 minutes of the other greatest TV drama of all time—actually, I put The Wire at number 2, and The Sopranos at number 3, with both behind Mad Men in my greatest list of a few weeks ago—and it sure is a welcome arrival. Apparently, people who argue over these things are concerned that it is being released in a 1.78:1 widescreen ratio rather than 1.33:1 in which it was shot (and for a time, protected for 16:9 letterbox). I don’t have a view on this, especially given the gorgeous quality of the remaster in its 1080p/AVC-encoded video version you get here. I am a purest in some areas but not here. But there’s an explanation.
According to a December 2014 David Simon blog post, “If you compose a shot for a wider 16:9 screen, then you are, by definition, failing to optimize the composition of the 4:3 image. Choose to serve one construct and at times you must impair the other.” He then added:
“Bob Colesberry died during surgery while we were prepping season three of the drama. A short time later, HBO came to us with news that the world was going to HD and 16:9, as Bob had anticipated. We could, if we wanted, film the remaining seasons of The Wire in HD and widescreen. But at that point a collective decision then was made to complete the project using the template that we had honed, the construct that we felt we had used to good effect to make the story feel more stolen than shaped, and to imply a more journalistic rendering of Baltimore than a filmic one. Just as important, we had conceived of The Wire as a single story that could stand on its own across the five seasons. To deliver the first two seasons in one template and then to switch-up and provide the remaining seasons in another format would undercut our purpose tremendously, simply by calling attention to the manipulation of the form itself. The whole story would become less real, and more obviously, a film that was suddenly being delivered in an altered aesthetic state. And story, to us, is more important than aesthetics.”
OK, that takes care of that. Simon and executive producer Nina Noble took over the details of this release—delaying it a few months—but gave us the best version possible and I defer to these guys, especially given how grateful I am to have this great work of art looking so sharp and therefore, all the more riveting. (And it is especially so given recent events in Baltimore, since like so many people, this show is all I know about police relations in that city.) My favorite seasons are two and four but this is something worth arguing over (and of course it changes the second time around). Go forth and binge.
Extras, you ask? It comes with 22 optional commentary tracks presenting an incredible amount of information courtesy of the cast and crew, a two-part behind-the-scenes documentary from 2008 offering a near 60-minute overview on the characters and creators of the show as well as what’s involved in creating an accurate vision of Baltimore and its cultural infrastructure, and a reunion of some of the cast for the 2014 PaleyFest featuring an 85-minute discussion with 13 principals.
John Lennon, “The Vinyl Collection,” is out and mimics the wonderful Beatles mono collection of last year with all eight of his solo albums in an 8-LP boxed collection on heavyweight, 180-gram vinyl with gorgeously replicated original artwork. They were remastered in 2010 from the original analogue tapes by Yoko Ono and a team of engineers from Abbey Road Studios in London and Avatar Studios in New York, but never before released on vinyl. (The individual albums will come out in August.)
The albums are:
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Some Time In New York City [2LP] (1972)
Mind Games (1973)
Walls and Bridges (1974)
Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975)
Double Fantasy (1980)
Milk and Honey (1984)
You also get all the extras that came with the original albums, like the postcards and posters from “Imagine,” and the postcards from “Sometime in New York City,” the booklet from “Walls and Bridges” and the great artwork of “Double Fantasy” and “Milk and Honey.”
As for the music itself, Lennon adheres to the rule of Beatles’ post-breakup work. One great album; one near great album and then a bunch of great songs on albums where they can no longer reach their potential outside of the greatest example of collaboration/competition in the twentieth century, according to me, anyway. (OK, so Ringo did actually put out a great album. As for a near great album, well, I think Beaucoup of Blues is better than OK.) John’sPlastic Ono Band is undeniably great. Imagine is near great even if, like me, you hate that song as much as any song in the world. Every other album has more than one great song but do not great albums make. Lots of people, however, like Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey much better than I do. I find them sappy and while I no longer blame Yoko for the break-up—a big step, that—that doesn’t mean I think she should be singing on John’s records. This will obviously be a collector’s item so Beatles/vinyl enthusiasts should get it while you can.
I should also mention that I caught a Graham Parker and the Rumor show at the Highline Ballroom this weekend. It was just like the old days in the late seventies except that we were all a lot older. The band was really good and it was kind of fun to see them looking like grandfathers but still playing up a storm. Thing is, I’m getting kind of old for those shows where you have to stand the whole time. Maybe if I had a guitar… Anyway I have no opinion on the last two reunion albums but the old stuff is as great as ever.
I also wanted to give a shout out to the Womanity Foundation. The kid and I went to a dinner in its honor the other night at Le Cirque and they appear to do great, important work empowering young women all around the world. With the possible exception of addressing the crisis of climate change—which isn’t going to happen—this is about the most significant cause there is in terms of all of the good it could do if done on a sufficiently significant scale. Check it out.
Finally, among the myriad achievements of Ornette Coleman is the fact that he is, I’m pretty sure, the last man I let kiss me. I was at a party I knew he would be going to and so I brought my box set of Beauty is a Rare Thing for him to sign. I almost never ask anyone for an autograph, but you know, Ornette Coleman. So I did and he was so pleased to be asked that he hugged and kissed me. I didn’t have time to think about it but I suppose if I had, I would have been okay with it. After all, he was Ornette Coleman. And my box set is signed. Here is the info about his service, which is open to the public.
ORNETTE COLEMAN FUNERAL SERVICE
SATURDAY JUNE 27, 2015
THE RIVERSIDE CHURCH
490 Riverside Dr,
New York, NY 10027
Between W 122nd St and W 120th St
Followed by a Private Burial
And really finally, today is the anniversary of my friend Izzy Stone’s death. He was the first person to whom I was close who died, not including my grandparents.