Swinging Modern Sounds: Observations on the Occasion of a 100th Column


1. Music has changed a lot since I started writing the Swinging Modern Sounds column in 2009.

2. For example, when I started the column I was still primarily listening to music on compact disc.

3. I was still buying most of my music at Other Music in lower Manhattan—that was about three years after Tower Records, across the street, had closed.

4. The record store was one of the great mercantile institutions of the last century (along with the indie bookstore), the place where I spent the vast majority of my shopping time and money as a young person, and in the space where record shopping was in my life there is now a big hole.

Bandcamp is sort of the closest you can get to a record store without being the record store now and there are some things I really like about it, and I am willing to pay for music on Bandcamp, especially on those Fridays when it goes more into the pockets of the artists. The search functions and algorithms are good, as are music features there. You feel like it’s a community of upstarts.

5. Best thing about Other Music, in retrospect: whatever totally uncompromising thing they were playing on the sound system. It was something I hadn’t heard, nine times out of ten.

6. Second-best thing about Other Musical: their totally idiosyncratic system of categorizing things. It made a mockery of the idea of categorizing music, which was maybe the point; the categories are a tyranny and are made to be broken and reassembled in such a way that you stumble on things, on revelations.

7. Best thing about Tower Records, the behemoth across the street, during its prime: the classical music department. It sort of anticipated Other Music, in a way. Once I saw a box set of La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano there (I think the label was Gramophone), and I felt like it was too expensive that day, maybe hundreds of dollars, but now I really wish I had bought it. In fact, I feel like an idiot that I didn’t. I also bought lots of obscure experimental stuff in that department (anything on New Albion and Catalyst), and it was always hushed and peaceful in there, less robustly traveled. Like Tower in general, the classical department got less and less interesting as time went on.

8. The other good thing about Tower in its prime: the little free magazine they used to give away listing upcoming releases. Great for reading on the subway.

9. I used to go to the Virgin Megastore on the Upper West Side some, too. If I was in that neighborhood. It was always a bit commercial but I liked being able to browse in any neighborhood.

10. I think I bought a record at Other Music that was just a field recording of a certain rare kind of cricket. I don’t play it very often. In fact, I don’t know where it is right now.

11. When I started writing this column in earnest, in 2010, there was still a great ideological divide between music on the major labels and independently released music, and I thought I was staking my flag for independent music. I thought the ideological divide was a thing-in-itself, not a sign of larger cultural dispute. Now, almost everything I listen to is independent.

12. The indie labels vs. major labels ideological divide seems quaint, old-fashioned, simplistic. Even artists who used to be on the major labels are sometimes independent now, using the labels only for manufacturing and distribution. (See, for example, the last two David Bowie albums.)

13. What is independent, now, is always entangled with the global, and, conversely, what is local is the hope for the future.

14. Bandcamp and Soundcloud and other self-releasing entities (CD Baby, too) have become major players in distribution, bypassing the big labels. Distribution can be had in many ways, in many forms. Self-owned record labels are routine.

15. The biggest song of summer in 2010 was Eminem and Rihanna doing “Love the Way You Lie” which I have never heard (knowingly) until today. It seems sort of like a pop song, really, with a frisson of hip-hop, not much more. Rihanna is a major player in fashion now, and Eminem is, well, a middle-aged guy. The biggest song of summer 2020, perfect for the week of the Republican party’s convention (the period in which I originally wrote these lines), because of how it infuriates self-designated protectors of civic order, is Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion doing “WAP.”

16. Cardi B has nothing like a conventional singing voice—it’s sort of reedy and a bit nasal and she constantly feels like she’s straining to be heard in the mix. This increases her sultry quality and her menace. I think they must multitrack her to get the most out of her. She enlarges the idea of the singing voice. Most singers with her voice sound vulnerable, but that is not exactly her effect. It feels like she chases the beat sometimes, too.

17. And yet: “WAP” is incredibly funny and ribald and represents a statement of self-determination (perhaps admixed with a perceptive idea of the male gaze) like none other in the recent history of the popular song. If you compare it to Eminem and Rihanna, we have come a long way, not only in themes, but sonically, in terms of the way mixing and mastering feature in the post-trap era, the way song structure has been broken apart. And: raunch still has the capacity to bust you out. If I don’t listen to Top 40 much, I can still hear something arresting, and delight in how it is incendiary in the culture wars, and changes things.

18. During the ten or eleven years I have worked on the column, rock and roll and its derivative forms ceased to have meaningful cultural impact.

19. Is there even a way, at this point, to speak to what rock and roll is or was? In popular music, one way you can figure out forms is by listening to the rhythms. Reggae has its twos and fours, funk often had the big one, tango has its syncopations, jazz had its swing time (and the debate about whether it’s really just a dotted quarter note); the Grateful Dead had their shuffle time that they liked so well. Country had two-step. Chuck Berry seemed to indicate that rock and roll was constructed around backbeat, a certain kind of backbeat that is identifiable, say, on the opening of “Honky Tonk Women,” or “When the Levee Breaks.” Or in the Bo Diddly rhythm. You don’t hear these rock and roll rhythms as much anymore (and metal, in its many forms, has hastened the decline of the rock and roll rhythms owing to its jittery and often incoherent double kick drumming).

20. An anxiety I have about rock and roll after the fact is that in some cases it was built around exclusions—it was, in the 1970s, against Black music (except when it was appropriating Black music), against women, and sort of excused predatory imagery and worse (think of all those “sweet sixteen” songs). It’s really depressing to think that the music of one’s youth was systemically racist and sexist, but one did not choose the time of one’s birth, and atonement can be located in accurate appraisal now—or maybe, at least, that’s a beginning of atonement.

21. Rock and roll can be remade now, and is being remade (Chris Forsyth, Steve Gunn, Jolie Holland), but it is unlikely to occupy a position of cultural centrality, except in nostalgia. That’s fine. Let hip-hop rule. Neglect is a good address from which to to start—in refinement and sophistication and thoughtfulness.

22. Perhaps because I could feel diminishing cultural importance taking place around me, Swinging Modern Sounds was occupied with songcraft, with rock and Americana in contemporary music, for about a year and a half, and then I kind of gave up the narrow thematic concerns.

23. If rock and roll came to look bad in retrospect, mainstream country music galloped ahead into full-scale embarrassment. It is now, arguably, the Republican-apologist musical idiom.

24. The sign of the contemporary in music now has to do with something like auditory hygiene. Auditory hygiene suggests that the track should be clean, well-organized, and mastered so that everything is as close to peaking as possible.

25. Everything is mastered to sound exactly the same.

26. Music hygiene is especially pronounced in the matter of rhythm—I hesitate to say drums as drums are much more rarely used now. The machines are the rhythm section.

27. The effect of EDM on music is such that the prevailing rhythm of the moment is four on the floor. It’s less complicated for everyone, especially for the machines.

28. Hip-hop manages to avoid some of this because hip-hop often employs musicians who come from genres less simplistic about rhythms, but it also exacerbates the problem by often avoiding live drumming, except in certain singular cases, like the extraordinary Questlove.

29. Four on the floor is the sound of corporate capital. It’s perfect for people on molly or ketamine or whatever the hallucinogen because they don’t have to think concretely about the monotony; they have other concerns.

30. The click track is a thing you can hear on recordings, too. It wants to have identifiable results: shop, eat, reproduce.

31. One way you can tell that country set out to cannibalize rock and roll is that country gave up the two-step and the shuffle rhythm and borrowed the backbeat.

32. Country music now features an implicit loyalty oath.

33. There’s no college radio market anymore, and, obviously, nowhere to play.

34. What’s the effect of pandemic on dance music?

35. TikTok is one medium for music. Fifteen seconds. It’s hard to dispute the idea that in an age of TikTok hegemony every song needs to be subdividable into fifteen-second sections. The fifteen-second rhythm has to be manifest in that same abbreviated span. And I’m leaving aside the effect of TikTok on choreography.

36. Here’s how you know that TikTok is about corporate capital (you provide the content!): Trump talks about it a lot.

37. I like watching live dancers badly imitating TikTok though, especially my children. The imitation feels very human in the way music feels human; the breakdown of musical hygiene is satisfying.

I vote for poor musical hygiene; I vote for uncleanliness; I vote for impurity; I vote for borrowing; I vote for deliberately inexact imitation; I vote for women singing the men’s parts; I vote for Black music; I vote for improvisation; I vote for jazz; I vote for things that are very quiet; I vote for analogue equipment; I vote for live recording; I vote for tape; I vote for vinyl; I vote for ownership of the means of production; I vote for lyrics that don’t rhyme at all, or lyrics that badly rhyme; I vote for music that can be made or recorded in a housing project or a trailer park; I vote for music made at home, alone; I vote for unaccompanied singing; I vote for a song in which you bang on Formica with a stainless steel fork while singing the words: “I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love.” Three times, not four.

38. Every time I use Spotify I feel like I die a little bit.

39. Here’s what Spotify is really good for. Say you are writing a music column and because you are about to say something on the subject you want to remember what “Baby, I’m-a Want You,” by Bread sounds like. (I’m doing this right now. Why didn’t they have any strings behind the guitar solo?

40. You may not want to buy The Best of Bread on iTunes, or order a vinyl version. You probably don’t have a working CD player anymore. So, even if your friend has a copy of the album on CD, you can’t play that. Spotify is the way. And that’s why this particular song has twenty-five million streams on Spotify. People need to hear that song occasionally for research purposes.

41. David Gates (the songwriter of “Baby, I’m-a Want You”) probably made $7,000 from twenty-five million streams. That might even be on the high side. Luckily, he invested in a cattle ranch in the 1970s.

There is a website called Forgotify that catalogues songs never played on Spotify. It is really interesting. Music that is entirely unworthy of attention is entirely worthy of attention. (Today’s choice: “Bling of a Stanger,” sic, a remix by 2-Hand Hanger, originally recorded by Viper the Rapper. It’s great, and sounds like it was recorded in an empty laundromat at 5 a.m.)

42. The question is what the effect of large-scale impoverishment of musicians by Spotify means for music as a form. Is there a sound to Spotify? A particular idiom? Obviously, you can use Spotify to play The Best of Bread and, in my case, recently, I played the Eminem song mentioned above, and I also went on a jag where I had to hear what the Dixie Dregs sounded like. And Free (the band called Free). I only ever knew the one song by Free, written by the bass player. In these cases, Spotify is a value-free receptacle. Sort of. I can’t, for example, play “Hardcore Jollies” by Funkadelic, which I would really like to hear, and it’s hard not to think that the absence of some Funkadelic is a sign off oppression, even if it’s some contractual something-or-other.

43. But what about what Spotify likes now? What does this streaming service that generates massive profits for tech companies and their investors but very little for musicians really favor? I have read that a song only qualifies as a stream if you play thirty seconds on Spotify, and thus, as with TikTok, the contemporary Spotify stream has to induce you to get to the thirty-second mark, after which it can, if it wants: punt. This suggests putting all the hooks up front.

44. But I also think the tech masters of Spotify respect a tech solution and thus they incline toward music that solves its problems through tech, plug-ins, machines, auto-tuning, samples, etc. Skrillex to me is a really good example of a perfect contemporary, Spotify-formatted artist. “Ego Death,” by Skrillex is the epitome of an incredibly boring Spotify song. No melodic development, no meaningful anything, no idea of electronic music, just a few discrete vocals sections that avoid meaning, and which have no significant internal need for each other. Maybe the ego death invited by the title is its effect.

45. Idiomatically speaking, one of the principal changes in music over the last several years has been the decline of the guitar as a popular instrument.

46. Between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s of the last centuries there were so many powerful and original modifications to the guitar as an instrument, and this is after feedback, effects pedals, alternate tunings, extended technique, bowing, diverse uses of amplifiers, unisons of multiple guitars, relationships among guitars, and then sometime after the turn of the century it was as if the body of knowledge pestered out.

47. Jack White’s use of extreme synthesizer/effects voicing on some guitar parts is the only thing I can think of as genuinely new since the Branca and Chatham pieces for hundreds of guitars. Maybe the sampling of guitar in My Bloody Valentine songs.

48. Even guitar players who used to seem interesting, like Thurston Moore or Neil Young or Richard Lloyd seem to have stopped innovating more recently.

Is the instrument now beyond rehabilitation? In a way it seems like it has achieved its fullness in history. People will continue to play it well (Steve Gunn, Chris Forsyth, James “Blood” Ulmer) but as part of a rarified sub-genre of popular music, one like jazz or tropicalia, that is either used nostalgically or as a kind of musical elitism for the very few.

49. That’s why all the rock and roll that cracks the publicity barrier now and makes it into public consciousness is by older artists. This year, both Huey Lewis and Hootie and the Blowfish were redeemed—acts that, in their day, any discerning music listener would have dismissed. Oddly, hearing Huey and Hootie this year was sort of satisfying, not because those songs are good, but because you never really hear music like that now. A bar band from the South with a Black lead singer who likes old country music and who is nicely raspy really is pretty unique, the soul shouting of a white guy whose career has been cut short by Meniere’s disease very poignant, warm, and inviting. In this environment.

50. Consequently, after the era of the electric guitar, every new band that tries to play guitar in the old way sounds quaint. To me, every band that has come along to save rock and roll in the last couple of years sounds like Ratt. Ratt with a smattering of Poison, Motley Crue, and, especially now, a little Van Halen.

51. Partly, it’s about politics. In the aggressively divided politics of the present, rock and roll about entertainment feels conservative. Now that you have members of Aerosmith and The Who and Led Zeppelin fronting for conservatives here and there, it becomes clear that the old, good-time rock and roll may have been protecting some traditional values that you don’t want to protect at all. There’s the baked-in sexism, there’s the tolerance (at least) for pedophilia, there’s a lot of welcoming of addiction that we really got used to, and have stopped thinking about at all.

52. The other problem with rock and roll is economics. Equipment, rehearsal, recording, and touring are all really expensive with guitars, basses, and drums. But for Skrillex none of this is expensive, nor is it for Run the Jewels. A lot of recording is done at home these days, which represents ownership of means of production, but if you’re recording guitars, basses, drums at home you’re home better be Electric Ladyland, or Muscle Shoals, or Water Music (or the equivalent).

This doesn’t mean that there’s not a next thing that incorporates guitars—a really great rapper who plays like Thurston Moore, or a jazz ensemble that loves Black Flag (The Messthetics!), or a very tightly organized vocal ensemble, replete with R&B influences, who also love Queen. A British grime act that also loves the Velvet Underground and Suicide.

There are many ways to imagine a newly relevant flavor of rock and roll. But it’s unlikely that Bread will ever again conquer the charts in the same way, except as an exercise in nostalgia.

53. That means that the guy who started writing Swinging Modern Sounds in 2009 is no longer culturally aware in the relevant ways.

54. I started thinking of myself as someone who was allowed to write about music in my middle and late forties. I started planning for the column when I was forty-eight. I’m shortly going to be fifty-nine.

55. Would I, as a young listener, have trusted a music critic in his late fifties, to understand a form often written by the young for the young? No way. I would not have trusted me. One time I was on a panel on the subject of Bob Dylan with Gary Giddins (the great jazz critic) and Robert Christgau, and even though I thought those guys were great writers (I really admire Giddins a lot), I couldn’t believe that they were still sitting around talking about Dylan, and that was probably fifteen years ago.

56. So, I feel the bell tolling for me. I didn’t totally understand Kendrick Lamar, at first; I had to have it explained to me (now I totally get it, he’s enormously expressive, and clearly To Pimp a Butterly is the popular music masterpiece of the last ten years); I don’t really understand or listen to Ariana Grande or Demi Levato; I kind of hate Greta Van Fleet; I don’t lie awake awaiting the new song by Car Seat Headrest, or even Phoebe Bridgers.

57. So over the course of eleven years I have moved further and further from a music column about independent music and individual songcraft, even though that occasionally still happens, and more in the direction of experimental music, serious music, jazz, instrumental music, ambient, non-narrative electronic music, and so on.

I can remember, as I have said before, having a conversation with my stepmother, sometime in the ’80s, wherein she (a onetime youthful Beatles fanatic) said that there would come a time when I wouldn’t listen to rock and roll anymore. I scoffed. In a way we were both right: she was right because tastes change, and you get older and you want to hear what older artists are saying—I want to hear what Bob Dylan is saying, or, say, Richard Thompson, or Elvis Costello, and  I also want to listen to string quartets and renaissance music and Indian classical music and Balinese music, and Tuvan throat singers.

58. But I was right, too. A certain time of the popular song, from 1971–1985, let’s say, is my oldies station, alas, and I’ll probably be listening to it on my death bed. (I’ll probably be listening to Astral Weeks on my deathbed.) But that doesn’t make me a perfectly well-informed music critic.

59. I made a playlist for this column (see below).

60. The playlist includes, roughly speaking, one song for every column I wrote for Swinging Modern Sounds. I have written a hundred of them, and especially in later years they were often between five- and eight-thousand words.

61. That means I wrote five-hundred-thousand words for The Rumpus. Let it be noted that I wrote these five-hundred-thousand words for free. I did at one point write for Salon for a year or so (for money, not much), but eventually I liked the freedom at The Rumpus and came back.

62. I wrote these pieces while teaching and writing novels and memoirs and raising kids, and I did it because I loved doing it. I wrote only about things I loved—or, very occasionally, about things that seemed so bad that they offended the things I loved—but eventually I gave up on things I disliked and stuck to what I loved.

63. So, this column was a record of things I loved.

I wish I could put all one hundred columns in a book, but I think it would be too long by about two-thousand pages. I could almost make a book just by collecting three columns (David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, and Tom Petty) that were really long. What about the other ninety-seven?

64. I listened to all this music on the playlist while I was compiling it. It’s not all accurate, by the way. And: some music here is not entirely effective, but I’m not saying which tracks. Some stuff was not available on the dreaded Spotify. Some recordings were too obscure, and I wanted to stick to a playlist so that I could give it to you, the occasional reader and listener of my column. It’s supposed to be like the old-fashioned mixtape, a love letter. These were things that constituted me as a listener. I hope you like them.

65. I didn’t include things on the playlist that were too long—I supplanted Orthrelm with Krallice, for example. Sometimes I accepted edits (Metal Machine Music) even though I think the whole is much, much better, because, well, the playlist ten hours now! It could have been fifteen!

66. The first ten or fifteen songs hew toward songcraft and represent a period of still thinking that songcraft was paramount. They also represent a period of acceptance of things I liked as a kid (Frank Zappa, ELP, and Traffic), things that I had erased after the punk period, that I had pretended had never happened. I felt then and still feel now that one should understand all of one’s enthusiasms as essential data even when baffling, that one should love what one loves and learn from that affection.

67. It is probably true that if everyone proceeded cataloguing honestly they would find that what they love is contradictory or paradoxical or unevenly scattered across the canvas of love. It is interesting to watch the character of the playlist change thereafter, incorporating more instrumental music, experimental music, etc.

68. I say yes to all guilty pleasures now, but I also find I don’t like some of them as much.

69. I notice a change from which the playlist never quite returns, when it takes up one of Moby’s long ambient pieces. As with almost all of the interviews that I did for Swinging Modern Sounds, this one with Moby was a most memorable event.

70. Moby and I grew up in the same town in Connecticut, and somehow that has always reinforced my feeling that he was a regular guy, even when he was at his very hugest. This made me slightly less nervous when I was at his house getting a tour of his self-described drum machine museum. It was really fun. My partner Laurel took some pictures.

71. It is worth saying that personal difficulties had to be overcome to do my column. For example, though meeting musicians and artists and talking about process is one of my fondest pastimes, I struggle (and have my whole life), with a pretty extreme phobia about talking into telephones or just about any other telecommunications device.

72. Most people who are willing to do interviews want to do them on the telephone. Really, the more successful the musician, the more likely they are to want to be interviewed on the phone. This created some real difficulties in terms of conducting discussions. Where actual conversations took place, I was often sweating bullets, as they saying goes, really uncomfortable—as though on a really momentous job interview—and looking back, even hearing the music on this playlist I can remember how uncomfortable I was sometimes. Even when I grew up in the same town as the subject.

73. When I started the column I thought I was going to express my opinions about music; later, I thought I was going to express other people’s opinions about music; and then finally I thought that I just wanted to express the music itself. I thought the words should do in words what the music does in music.

A number of columns were completely collaborative, in that I willingly gave over half, or more, of the responsibility to others. Michael Snediker and I made several pieces together, including one about William Basinski that I consider a standout. (We also made a great piece about Matmos that appeared in the Journal of Popular Music.)

74. Tim Ramick and I made a piece about the orchestral version of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, and another about Glenn Branca (may he rest in peace), that I think of as high points of my time at The Rumpus.

75. And then I did these round tables, about Prince, Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell, and later Ric Ocasek (for Waxwing magazine), where I would try to vanish into a team. These pieces were always revelatory, and they stretched the very idea of the blog post, or the music column, until these ideas were no longer applicable to what I was doing. On the one hand they were exploratory, even experimental, but they were also, perhaps more importantly, about community.

76. What does it mean to say that music is a thing that happens in a community?

77. Often we listen alone.

78. But listening can also be a manifestly public thing. Whether in the concert halls, the clubs, the stadiums, the dance halls, music is a thing that marks off community, that indicates the very existence of community. Music is when poetry is sung aloud—music is when we communicate, and when we communicate is music. The desire to share music is when we are making a “we” of ourselves, delighting in the “we” of it, and that was a reason to make this column in the first place, and then a reason to want to share the making of it, to find people who wanted to try or wanted to listen or wanted to read.

79. Early on, I tried to answer comments. Early on there were comments (I felt sad about the diminishment of comments.) I tried to answer—this was how I got into the whole Taylor Swift flap, early on, a dust-up in the comments that I probably never should have gotten into.

80. The point of the comments was this: I would happily have integrated the entire audience into the column.

81. I would have gladly integrated you, reader, into the column somehow, were it possible to continue it indefinitely. The clash of opinions about music is music itself.

82. I was a musician myself when I began writing this column, and adjudged by number of units shipped I was a tremendous failure at making (and selling) music. This is not unusual for music critics—that they are failed musicians, with just enough insight to be deadly.

83. But maybe all the things I was doing were of one substance. Maybe writing novels (and collage poems) and writings songs and singing in a band and writing about music were all one substance, one thing, and the goal was always to eliminate barriers between audience and artist until there were none and the making of sound and language was continuous, and widespread.

84. Oh by the way I put a recording of John Cage’s “4’33’” in here on the playlist not only because I wrote a column about when a friend of mine gave a memorable performance of it at my high school (in chapel, no less), which was undeniably formative for me, but also because music creates its rhetorical power by retaining the possibility of silence, and the two seconds between tracks iterates this but the two seconds have become formulaic and these silences no longer encourage a full understanding of silence.

85. All the silences in this playlist were composed by me. But I will not enforce copyright.

86. The silence after the playlist, and the one before—I composed those, too.

87. These silences are meant to help us, you and me, investigate the nature of what music is, and in part this was a motive for the column, to ask again about the nature of music. Increasingly, the column pursued such questions, I think, by being less interested in genre, or by asking about music across genres, such that we inquire into its requirements and boundaries.

88. One way to do this is always to ask about how and when music starts and stops. How do you know when it has begun? And how do you know that it has ended? If it has not ended, it’s possible you should still be listening.

89. So, partly what I’m getting at by celebrating the one-hundredth column of Swinging Modern Sounds is that I think it is sort of ending.

90. I love The Rumpus, and am incredibly grateful to Stephen Elliott for giving me my start, and to Marisa Siegel for keeping me on and for working with me as the pieces got denser and longer. She has been supportive and kind, even while trying to raise a family and maintain all the other columnists and features at a thriving venue.

91. I don’t know if I can really stop, but it might like one of the deaths where one organ at a time shuts down. [Stay tuned for Swinging Modern Sounds #103, coming in February. – Ed.]

92. I also have to thank my transcriber Katherine Sloan who helped me enormously and was a real cheerleader for me throughout the later years of Swinging Modern Sounds. Also my wife and children made room in the schedule for me to do interviews and to run around in high anxiety because I had to talk to some musician on the phone.

93. Many musicians and friends and musician friends helped me, like Danny Felsenfeld, Howard Wuelfing, Glenn Morrow, David Rakowski, John Colpitts, David Grubbs, Robert Nedelkoff, Hannah Marcus, Jolie Holland, Tim Bracy, Charles Bissell, Michael Hearst, John Baumgartner, Dave Schramm, Wesley Stace, and many, many others.

94. A lot of things have not been written about here yet; things I really want to write about, like Sun Ra, have not been written about yet. I have yet to write the long piece about the dBs I want to write. I want to write about Death Grips. I want to write about Lindsay Cooper. The Nico/Cale collaborations. George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. Captain Beefheart. I have wanted to write about Carla Bley, but I’m afraid I don’t know enough theory. Ingram Marshall. Taylor Deupree.

95. I still want to write that piece about every good song Pete Townshend has written since Who’s Next.

96. My prevailing feeling about letting go of the column is a certain despondency. Also irresolution. Also incompleteness. Also impatience. Irritation. My feeling is accomplishment. My feeling on finishing the column is joy. My feeling is loss.

97. What does isolation mean for music now?

98. Is “Visions of Johanna” the best song ever written?

99. “A Good Year For the Roses”? “Surf’s Up”? “What’s Going On”? “Tears of a Clown”? “My Funny Valentine”? “Court and Spark”? “Fuck the Police”? Sister Ray”? “Superstitious”? “Maggot Brain”? “A Love Supreme”? “Dub Housing”? “Horses”? “Fight the Power”? Gotham Lullaby”? “WAP”?

100. Insert your own observation about contemporary music here:


Rumpus original art by Dmitry Samarov.

Rick Moody is the author of six novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and a volume of essays, On Celestial Music. His most recent publication is Hotels of North America, a novel. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he recently released the album The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise recordings). More from this author →