What We’re Listening To This Week – The New Yorker
Post Malone, âRockstarâ
When I hear a song I like, I want to know not only who made it but also its origin story. After my sister Lizanne gave me âRubber Soul,â my first album, in 1965, when I was six, I spent the rest of my childhood trying to differentiate between the John, Paul, and George songs. That was what knowledge meant to me, early on, and it propelled my pseudo-scholarly interest in pop music. Since then, it has been a lifetime of liner notes, fanzines, and guitar mags. With the Internet, it became guitar-tab sites, behind-the-scenes videos, and self-appointed annotators, now partly organized by the Web site Genius, which is where I wound up not long ago, seeking the dope on âRockstar,â by Post Malone. According to a video on Genius, the John and Paul of âRockstarâ are the songâs lyricist, the twenty-three-year-old Post Malone, nÃ©e Austin Richard Post; and the songâs beat maker, Tank God, a biology major at the University of Hartford, in Connecticut. They met by chance, in a studio in New York, and Tank played Post the track, which creeps along at eighty beats per minute, through a dark valley of 808s, its sonic pathway studded with kicks and snares and canopied with high hats. Inspired, Post immediately spat out the songâs hook, âI feel just like a rock star.â
Nothing about the sombre mood of the track suggests joy or ecstasy, leading this wishfully thinking parent to suggest to his eighteen-year-old son that the song is actually a cautionary tale about rock-star life. âRockstarâ grafts Postâs plaintive, vaguely Hank Williams-style delivery onto hip-hop rootstock in way that transcends traditional musical genres, and perhaps even suggests a future for pop music in which collaboration, rather than appropriation, is the norm. Thanks to the enormous success of the song, Tank God and Post Malone might even have the chance to find out what feeling like a rock star is really like. But for the beat-maker, at least, success is about âlongevity,â as he says in the video, and âwhat you do next,â not just âone and doneânever that.â Tank God wonât likely be living like a rock star any time soon. He has to get his biology degree first.âJohn Seabrook
The Civilians, âStarsâ
The first time I saw the work of the documentary-theatre group the Civilians was in 2007, when they reprised their gorgeous, oddball musical âGone Missing.â Based on interviews with people about things theyâd lostâa ring, a body part, âmy coolââthe show was punctuated by the brilliant songs of Michael Friedman, who died this past September, at the age of forty-one. Michael had his own completely individual idea of what a âshow tuneâ was, or could be: his lyrics seldom rhymed, and his songs usually ended like a dropped phone call rather than with a flourish. Michael, too, made a sudden exit, and the theatre world has been grappling with his loss.
Recently, the Public Theatre held a memorial service that brought together all of Michaelâs theatrical families, plus his real one; audiences filled up six different spaces throughout the building, and the performances were simulcast. Toward the end, the Civilians performed âStars,â the last song from âGone Missing,â and itâs been swimming around in my head ever since. The song, like everything in the show (written not long after 9/11), is about lossâabout how the things we lose never really belonged to us to begin with. At the Public, Steve Cosson, the Civiliansâ artistic director, introduced it by saying that, whenever the actors got too wistful, Michael would tell them, âJust remember, this is a breakup song. The guy is dumping someone, and heâs using Plato as a justification. Heâs a huge dick!â The direction went unheeded during the memorial: everyone was in tears, onstage and off.âMichael Schulman
Thomas AdÃ¨s, âPiano Quintet: 1â
Since Iâm eagerly looking forward to going to the Metropolitan Opera to hear âThe Exterminating Angelââwhich is already a smash hitâthis week, Iâve been boning up on my Thomas AdÃ¨s. A British native, AdÃ¨s is one of the leading transatlantic composers of his generation; the Met presented his first grand opera, âThe Tempest,â in 2012. Since the end of his college days, at Cambridge University, he began writing works that were not merely highly praised but that began at once to enter the general repertory. The parallel with the career of Benjamin Britten has been, to put it mildly, noticed.
Iâll put forward two works to which I feel a particular connection. My link to the Chamber Symphony is personal: I was present at the world premiÃ¨re, in Cambridge, in February of 1991. (I was a masterâs student in composition there; AdÃ¨s was completing his undergraduate degree.) This is very much the young AdÃ¨s, a little saucy and impudent, but also respectful of the past. Notice the odd perseverance of the opening tango rhythm, how instruments are often used in extreme ranges or seem slightly out of tune; itâs all part of his singular way of creating durable music themes at the same time that he seems to be destroying, or at least muddying, them. You donât so much listen to the piece as give way to it, powerless at the musical ivy that is progressively crawling around your ears. My connection to the âPiano Quintet: 1â (2000) is not personal but communal: like Bergâs Violin Concerto, it is one of those pieces that many composers admire. Cast in one sonata-form movement of Mahlerian scope, it blends influences of Schubert, Ligeti, and Brahms with AdÃ¨sâs own moods, which are frightful and disarming by turns. Drink deeply.âRussell Platt
Thelonious Monk, âPiano Soloâ
The new reissue by Sony France of Thelonious Monkâs first and, to my ears, greatest solo piano sessionârecorded in June of 1954, on a tinny piano in a Paris room that sounds like a panelled basementâis a model for improving a familiar release over and above a sensitive remastering. First, unlike previous issues (whether the original ten-inch LP or the 1996 French release), the new disk restores the session in its entiretyârecorded for radio broadcastâto the order of its performance, as originally heard, starting with the broadcast producer AndrÃ© Francisâs introduction and Monkâs own brief but touching remarks, in French. Second, the booklet includes interviews about the session with Francis and the producer Marcel Romano, and also a vivid historical account by the pianist Laurent de Wilde of concerts that Monk gave in the same week. Third, and most important, the disk includes twenty-three minutesâ worth of previously unissued recordings of Monk from those concerts, featuring him playing his own compositions in a trio (with local accompanists on bass and drums), which he did very rarely in the remaining two decades of his career. Those playful, ruminative performances would alone justify the disk. As for the solo session itself, itâs also devoted to Monkâs own compositions (plus an exquisite rendition of Jerome Kernâs âSmoke Gets in Your Eyesâ), which he illuminates with a bouncy sense of rhythm, propelled mainly by the percussive variety of his right-hand touch, and a forthright, freewheeling audacity, including flights of near-atonal dissonance at a brisk and loose tempo that are unlike anything Iâve heard him essay elsewhere. This sample, taken from a previous release of the solo session, provides a good idea of the new reissueâs delights.âRichard Brody
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