Any Major Dudes will tell you: Steely Dan panel in Manchester, 11.11.17

Steely Dudes

To celebrate RBP’s brand-new anthology Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion, I shall on Saturday 11th November be discoursing with fellow Dan fanatics John Ingham (who reviewed Katy Lied for Sounds) and Daryl Easlea (who revisited Aja for the BBC) about the wit, wisdom and sheer musical brilliance of Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker. It’s at 2.15 pm at Manchester’s Louder Than Words festival, and you can book tickets here

Mark Greif against everything

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IN A WEEK I’ll be conversing with fellow “critics” Laura Barton and Will Hodgkinson on the subject of how one writes about music – or dances about architecture, to cite Martin Mull’s almost-infamous 1979 phrase.

I have no idea what I’ll say, though the prospect of the evening has got me thinking about Roland Barthes’ 1972 essay “The Grain of the Voice”, which shaped a 1991 book of mine called From a Whisper to a Scream, and about an NME piece I wrote back in 1984 called “Subbed Culture” – a strident defense of “critical” pop writing in the face of the MTV/Smash Hits dumbing-down of the discourse in that era.

I may go back and read some Lester Bangs, Nik Cohn, Ellen Willis; or some Ian MacDonald, Geoffrey O’Brien, Simon Reynolds. Or I may just point to three remarkable essays in Mark Greif’s 2016 collection Against Everything: “Radiohead, or the Philosophy of Pop”, “Punk: The Right Kind of Pain”, and “Learning to Rap”.

The three pieces, written in an unapologetically intellectual style that’s nonetheless intimate and confiding and wholly unpretentious, made me realise it’s still possible to write about pop music and pop culture in ways that haven’t exactly been done before – to ask questions of punk, hip hop, and electronica that haven’t exactly been asked before.

“Learning to Rap,” written by a white Harvard graduate, may be the best thing this white Oxford graduate has ever read about hip hop. It engages with the music of, among others, Nas and the Notorious B.I.G. is ways that make their records as emotionally real as they’re socially radical. Greif is brilliant on race and class and crack and capitalism, just as he’s super-perceptive in “Punk” on how much the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead had in common; just as he’s fascinating on the “philosophy” immanent in the vocal tics and synthetic textures of post-OK Computer Radiohead.

I don’t know what I’ll say at Spiritland, but I’ll certainly be thinking about the way Greif has encouraged me to take pop music seriously and personally all over again – to understand why, as Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote in Dancing in the Dark, music is the “rope” that holds my memories together and keeps my life in position.

An Unbound Night Out: How Do You Write About Music? 03/04/2017 6.30 pm

Spiritland, Granary Square, 9 – 10 Stable St, Kings Cross, London N1C 4AB

How do you write about music?

Unbound authors Tot Taylor (The Story of John Nightly) and Martine McDonagh (Narcissism for Beginners) are joined on Monday April 3 by the Times chief rock critic and author Will Hodgkinson, journalist and author Laura Barton and, yes, Yours Truly to discuss the question of How Do You Write About Music? Details of the event at Spiritland in London here.

Northern Uproar!

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Details of some forthcoming Louder In The Regions appearances in the Great Northern Powerhouse by yours truly + the great (and highly amusing) Jah Wobble + fellow scribes Chris Salewicz, Zoe Howe and more…

PONTEFRACT: The Tap and Barrel, Front Street

Wed 8th March  7.30pm  Jah Wobble in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 12th April  7.30pm  John Osborne: John Peel’s Shed
Click here for tix & info

Wed 10th May  7.30pm  Barney Hoskyns in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 21st June  7.30pm  Chris Salewicz in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 5th July  7.30pm  Zoe Howe in conversation
Click here for tix & info

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SHEFFIELD: The Ship Inn, Kelham Island

Tues 7th March  7.30pm  Jah Wobble in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Tues 11th April  7.30pm  John Osborne: John Peel’s Shed
Click here for tix & info

Tues 9th May  7.30pm  Barney Hoskyns in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Tues 20th June  7.30pm  Chris Salewicz in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Tues 4th July  7.30pm  Zoe Howe in conversation
Click here for tix & info

The-Ship

YORK: The Woolpack Inn, 6 Fawcett Street

Wed 22nd March  7.30pm  Chris Salewicz in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 26th April  7.30pm  Jah Wobble in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 17th May  7.30pm  Barney Hoskyns in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 14th June   7.30pm  John Osborne: John Peel’s Shed
Click here for tix & info

Wed 12th July  7.30pm  Zoe Howe in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Words in your ears

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A most convivial evening in Islington last night in the company not only of my former MOJO boss Mark Ellen and David “1971” Hepworth but of Tony Fletcher (in the middle, top pic), who talked so infectiously about wicked Wilson Pickett, subject of his great new biography. Both “chat shows” will be available soon in the Word In Your Ear podcast series. Thanks, fellas.