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If you ask me, there were quite a few cringe-worthy moments in the movie La La Land but one moment especially hit home. Early in the story, Emma Stone’s character, Mia, apprehensively confesses to Ryan Gosling’s idealistic jazz pianist that she “hates” jazz. It’s probably intended to show Mia’s relatability for the audience, but this viewer at least winced with recognition. The fact that Mia eventually discovers that she likes jazz after all is less about digging the music than about giving the viewer the Hollywood ending they want. She’s not alone in her defensiveness when it comes to America’s music — believe me, plenty of people tend to give us jazz fans the side-eye whenever the topic comes up.

The sad truth is that all too often jazz suffers the same kind of casual dismissal that hip-hop, country, and EDM used to get before they took over the mainstream. Granted, this might be something only a jazz lover would notice but since at least the ’70s, jazz has become something of a niche market, to put it mildly. In terms of yearly record sales, jazz usually sells as much as classical music does, one of the many things the two genres have in common. Far too often jazz comes off as dated or quaint; it’s your granddad’s make out music. Worse, there’s an implied snobbishness often projected onto loving jazz — it’s a little like explaining that you prefer to spend your Saturday nights translating Hegel or making artisanal cheese. More… “Giant Steps”

Matt Hanson lives in Western Mass and writes for The Arts Fuse,  Boston’s online independent arts and culture magazine.  His work has also appeared in The Baffler, The Millions, and 3 Quarks Daily, and other places.  He can usually be found in the nearest available used bookstore.

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In “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It),” Randy Newman takes some potshots at rock stars continuing to grind it out long past their prime. The joke, of course, is that the chief target of the satire is he himself. Although the cleverness and self-awareness of the song belie the indictment, “I’m Dead” invites the suspicion that in recent years each Newman album (to paraphrase the lyric) has tended to sound like the one before – just not as good. But Randy Newman peaked much later than many of his peers from the Woodstock Nation. Never having been a hippie, he could embrace middle age without embarrassment, and in 1988, at the age of 45, he brought out his best collection of songs ever, the rueful, sardonic, and teasingly autobiographical Land of Dreams. More… “Randy Newman’s Land of Dreams

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library. A collection of his essays, Culture Fever, was published in January.

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No one would ever peg Betty Wright’s funky 1972 hit, “The Clean-Up Woman” as a heartbreaking ballad. From its first emphatic chords on an electric guitar, followed by Wright’s soulful delivery, the song is one to rock your hips — not rock your heart. Wright sings about taking her man for granted and then losing him to the woman who swoops in to clean up the pieces of the neglected fellow’s ego. Indisputably, it is a song about loss; it is also a top-40 tune with an insistent beat that makes it nearly impossible to keep from dancing.

But dancing was the last thing on my mind on a recent afternoon when I finally left my classroom to go home, the sun dazzlingly low in the winter sky. I slid a shiny disc into the CD player, and the small space of my car welled up with that bright rhythm and Wright’s snappy delivery. Suddenly, I was shaking with sobs I had been holding back for months. More… “In Chapels of Music and Steel”

Melanie McCabe’s most recent book is His Other Life: Searching For My Father, His First Wife, and Tennessee Williams, which won the University of New Orleans Publishing Lab Prize. She is also the author of two poetry collections: What The Neighbors Know and History of the Body. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Shenandoah, Sweet, and other journals. Her poems have been published in The Georgia Review, The Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Southern Poetry Review, among others.

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members of Blue Cheer
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Not all moments of musical awakening have to do with sublimity. The early days of 1968 found rock and pop music waking up with a kind of hangover from all of the psychedelic happenings of the year before, when seemingly everyone — even the badass Rolling Stones — went the shimmering kaleidoscopic route.

Something was due to jar everyone back to having their feet on the ground and their ears pressed against it for the movement that would play a role in defining the new year. Enter, then, Blue Cheer and its debut Vincebus Eruptum, the first heavy metal album in history. More… “Blue Cheer”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

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A feverish, drug-addled musician huddles on the floor of his room in Berlin, pecking out his first novel on a typewriter. He’s tormented by the protagonist he’s creating: a mute, misunderstood creature who expresses in violence what he’s unable to communicate in speech. At the same time, this Australian musician is inspired by the artful anarchy of the German bands around him. He abandons his own band, the influential post-punk group The Birthday Party. He seems intent on blowing up his life.

These are just a few of the scenes in Nick Cave: Mercy on Me, published September 19, 2017, in the U.S. A 300-page, black-and-white graphic novel about Nick Cave was never going to be a light read, but this is gripping stuff. More… “Have Mercy on Me

Christine Ro’s writing about books, music, and other topics is collected at ChristineRo.com.

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At first I couldn’t tell if it was the heat or the banjos that had woken me. All through the night, music had flared up around my tent — guitars, fiddles, double basses — sometimes close, sometimes off in the distance as if in a dream. And now I thought I might be dreaming too, of banjos plunking like raindrops, their notes crisp and clear and falling around me. But the playing continued, and I opened my eyes to realize that the tent was bright and thick with humidity, and the pillow beneath my head was soaked with sweat. The temperature was unbearable. I had pitched camp the previous afternoon without thinking to look for shade, and now, in the glare of the morning sun, my tent had transformed into a sauna. Cursing and wiping my face with a shirt, I fumbled with the flap and lurched outside.

The field was packed. Twice as many tents had appeared since I’d gone to sleep, stretching down the hill out of sight. One huge canopy was pitched right next door, and the music that had woken me was coming from a small group sitting underneath, instruments in hand. One of the women glanced over, waved cheerfully, and called out, “Morning!” before inviting me into the shade. She set down her guitar and introduced herself as Nickie. Then she held up a mason jar and asked if I’d like some moonshine. “Pink lemonade moonshine,” she clarified. “Homemade.”

More… “The New Old-Time”

Will Preston is a writer, journalist, and critic. His writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in publications across North America, including Smithsonian Folkways, The Common, The Masters Review, and PRISM International. A native of Virginia, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is at work on a book about Appalachian old-time. Visit him at Will Preston.

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We all have fears, dark premonitions about the future, troubling recollections of the past, anxieties about the present that weigh on our minds and ruffle our sleep. Have I been a loving parent? Was I to blame for my divorce? What possessed me to vote for a Republican? Is she faking her orgasms? It may be that my life is very far from being the model of responsible engagement that I like to imagine it is, but there’s one particular fear that haunts me above all the other slippages, insecurities, and moral failings that must be held to my account: I worry that I’m Cecil Vyse.

Cecil Vyse, for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, is the priggish, snobbish, supercilious, sexless aesthete that Lucy Honeychurch almost makes the mistake of marrying in the 1908 novel. Even now, my Vysian tendencies betray me: “for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.“ Why should I assume, if only by implication, that anyone should be familiar with A Room with a View? Read it if you want to, don’t read it if you don’t. Ah, but things are rarely that simple for “artistic” spirits like Cecil and me. Against everything my education and reading have taught me, against everything I believe about respecting the subjectivity of all personal experience, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion I would like not to draw: I’m moved to rapture or wonder or fury by this or that artistic expression. You’re not. What’s wrong with you?

More… “I, Cecil Vyse”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library. A collection of his essays, Culture Fever, was published in January.

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I stand too close to the edges of curbs. Sometimes, I stand so absent-mindedly and perilously close that a slight nudge, misplaced step, or strong gust of wind could lean me into traffic. The “whoosh” and hot air of a passing vehicle startles me out of my carelessness. Yes yes

Yes

Yes

That’s also when my Uncle Clarence’s voice pulls me back.

Yes

Yes

Clarence Thompson was the oldest of my mother’s siblings. I grew up in the same house in which they were raised, on San Antonio’s East Side. During my first 12 years, he was still living there and was the most constant male presence in my life.

More… “Voices”

Cary Clack is a native of San Antonio. He wrote CNN commentaries for Coretta Scott King prior to becoming a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. He subsequently turned to politics, working as the communications director for Joaquin Castro’s Congressional campaign and Mayor Ivy Taylor. Trinity University Press published a collection of his columns, Clowns and Rats Scare Me, and is currently working on another book Dreaming US: Where did We from There? He was inducted into the Texas institute of Letters in April 2017.

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The punk music scene in Philadelphia is deeply rooted in the prominent hardcore clubs and bands that made the city their home in the 1980s, and it continues to thrive today. College radio stations, like Drexel University’s WKDU and the University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN, also played a crucial role in establishing the scene. While the genre frequently rages against the establishment in both content and performance, it was predominantly men who were on stage and behind the mic, giving voice to the anti-establishment message — at least in the beginning.

Or so the story of punk (particularly hardcore punk) goes. The reality is that Philadelphia’s punk scene has a much more complicated relationship with gender and with the representation of women in that scene. Looking at the broader landscape of punk today, it is not hard to see the legacy of early female punk bands, like the Slits or the more recent Riot Grrrl movement. Philadelphia is no exception to that, with many current bands that have significant female representation and have adopted overt third-wave feminist viewpoints. But this is not necessarily a new formation for Philly punk; the “institutions” of Philadelphia punk — show houses, basements, clubs, and radio stations — have been testing grounds for new and more progressive identity politics, which themselves have been reflections of broader social movements that account for feminist and queer perspectives, for decades.

More… “Philly Punk”

Kevin Egan is the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry in the Pennoni Honors College at Drexel University.

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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Since the winter of 1995, I have had an ongoing love affair. It has continued even to this day, nearly 21 years later. I have been engaged in this romance, if you will, during the course of several relationships and my marriage. I have always been open and honest about my love for Luciano and I will continue to maintain the open and honest attitude about him in any future relationships.

People change over time. Relationships change and evolve, or end. However, Luciano is the one constant in my life. While my thoughts and ideas about him have changed, I can say the changes are positive ones. That is, as I have matured, the way that I think of him has also matured. As I have spent the years watching him, drinking in every nuance of his movements as he speaks or walks across a room, I have moved beyond a mere infatuation. I have become enamored by him: his presence, his work and humanitarianism, and his care and compassion for others. More… “My Love Affair with Luciano”

Stephanie Haun is a band director who lives in Athens, TN. She holds both the Bachelor of Music degree in Instrumental Music Education and an M.A. in English: Literary Study from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. During the pursuit of the M.A., her research interests were varied, ranging from tracing the ideas presented in the poetry of Walt Whitman to the music of Bruce Springsteen to Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, and Cocaine Addiction. Stephanie presented a shortened, conference essay, “Self-Administered, Hypodermically, Subcutaneously, or Intravenously: Exploring the Cocaine Addiction of Sherlock Holmes,” at the Tennessee Philological Association Conference in 2010. She currently attends Queens University of Charlotte and is pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Creative Nonfiction.

When she isn’t teaching, or scrambling to meet deadlines, Stephanie is a reader of hard-boiled crime fiction, an avid knitter, and a sometimes trombonist.

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