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THE QUEEN IS DEAD: Aretha Franklin Dead @ 76

August 16th, 2018

ARETHA FRANKLIN, 1967, Atlantic Records publicity portrait.


FRESH AIR: Aretha Franklin was more than a woman, more than a diva and more than an entertainer. Aretha Franklin was an American institution. Aretha Franklin died Thursday in her home city of Detroit after battling pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type. Her death was confirmed by her publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn. She was 76.

Franklin has received plenty of honors over her decades-spanning career — so much so that the chalice of accolades runneth over. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2005. And Franklin sang “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

The Queen of Soul rarely gave interviews, so we were delighted when she sat down for a Fresh Air interview in 1989. Franklin spoke about her father’s gospel influence, growing up with Sam Cooke, crossing over to pop music and more. Read Franklin’s edited conversation with NPR’s Terry Gross below and listen via the audio link. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: Ms. Franklin had a grandly celebrated career. She placed more than 100 singles in the Billboard charts, including 17 Top 10 pop singles and 20 No. 1 R&B hits. She received 18 competitive Grammy Awards, along with a lifetime achievement award in 1994. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987, its second year. She sang at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, at pre-inauguration concerts for Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Bill Clinton in 1993, and at both the Democratic National Convention and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968. […]

Ms. Franklin’s airborne, constantly improvisatory vocals had their roots in gospel. It was the music she grew up on in the Baptist churches where her father, the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, known as C. L., preached. She began singing in the choir of her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, and soon became a star soloist.

Gospel shaped her quivering swoops, her pointed rasps, her galvanizing buildups and her percussive exhortations; it also shaped her piano playing and the call-and-response vocal arrangements she shared with her backup singers. Through her career in pop, soul and R&B, Ms. Franklin periodically recharged herself with gospel albums: “Amazing Grace” in 1972 and “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” recorded at the New Bethel church, in 1987. But gospel was only part of her vocabulary. The playfulness and harmonic sophistication of jazz, the ache and sensuality of the blues, the vehemence of rock and, later, the sustained emotionality of opera were all hers to command. MORE

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KURT VILE: Loading Zones

August 16th, 2018

New video by producers James Doolittle and Laris Kreslins, makes Kenzo look like Do The Right Thing. Note cameo by Pissed Jeans frontman Matt Korvette as a PPA stooge. Nice.

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Q&A: Legendary Jazz Photojournalist Veryl Oakland

August 16th, 2018


Miles Davis by Veryl Oakland

JOsh Pelta-HellaBY JOSH PELTA-HELLER Jazz In Available Light is a brand-new 328-page photo album of jazz from the 1960s through the 1980s, culled by jazz photojournalist and author Veryl Oakland from his own back pages. In many ways, the book is a sort of antimatter, a physical paradox: here is a current chronicle of a time past, published in print during a decidedly digital age, a daring declaration of the significance of a genre of music whose national popularity has waned to record lows, and — with the announcement from Canon earlier this summer that it would no longer manufacture film cameras — presented in a medium that’s in desperate danger of disappearance.

And if it’s a metaphorical wonder that the book exists at all, it’s a literal one as well: photojournalist Veryl Oakland suffered a catastrophic house flood in 1990 that nearly claimed his entire catalog, soaking VO_Coverhis collection of negatives, and crushing his three-decade-long career in photography under the inexorable weight of damp discouragement.

It wasn’t until Oakland revisited the films again, some twenty years later, that he realized they were still viable, and was moved to curate and publish this portfolio. The book is a sprawling anthology of images, a handsome and weighty tome featuring an impassioned and self-taught photographer’s life’s work, stylishly adorned with pull-quotes and anecdotes assembled from a career’s worth of his notes, articles, and recollections. It’s a transcendent and timeless document of jazz history, in all of its richest contrasts, in beautifully bound black-and-white glory.


PHAWKER: You spoke in the preface to the book about your first experience with jazz being an arbitrary encounter with a Salt Lake City radio station. Is that really the truth, or did you Mother-Goose that at all?

VERYL OAKLAND: No, that’s basically it, that’s what got my juices flowing. Just kind of a chance encounter, basically. It was the theme song of Wes Bowen’s All That Jazz program. It was “Blue Red,” by Red Garland.

PHAWKER: You spoke a little in the book about your own background growing up in South Dakota in the ‘40s and ‘50s, with influences from polka and big-band. With no prior exposure to bebor or hard bop at all, this must have been a radical departure or a sort of culture shock, the first time you heard it. Did you find hard bop and other types of jazz to be immediately accessible to you?

VERYL OAKLAND: It just kind of lit a spark in me. It was just something I hadn’t heard before, yeah. I didn’t grow up around anything like jazz whatsoever, in the Midwest.

PHAWKER: This must have been when, the mid-’50s or so?

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah. I was born in 1940, so it would’ve been the mid-’50s, I guess.

PHAWKER: Did you sort of follow the evolution of jazz at that point through hard bop and free jazz, and did you found those other genres immediately resonated with you?

VERYL OAKLAND: Not really, no. Actually, what really got my juices flowing was I guess hard bop, because when I heard Red Garland — and then later Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers or Horace Silver — that was strictly hard bop at that time. So it was later that I was able, by doing research on my own, actually discover bebop, by going back to Diz’ [Gillespie], Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and those people.

PHAWKER: You shot with Sun Ra, who’s famous for his development of free jazz. Were you a fan of that music as it was developing then?

VERYL OAKLAND: If you trace him back to his early beginnings, I mean he goes all the way back to swing, and he was one of the stride piano players, in his early days. He really blossomed in a whole different realm of music, throughout his career. I tried to remain open. I guess a best description would be, a lot of people when they talk about Miles Davis, they either loved him when he started out and hated him later on . . . I guess I tried to remain open to everything that was coming down. So while I really did enjoy Miles with his original quintet — and then later with the second great quintet with Wayne Shorter — but I still listened to pretty much everything that the artists were doing, just trying to keep an open mind.

Sun Ra Arkestra by Veryl Oakland

PHAWKER: Sun Ra was eccentric, and you wrote about some of that in your book — were you able to maintain a natural rapport with him? What was shooting with him like, and what do you recall from your interaction with him?
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CAT POWER: Woman (Feat. Lana Del Rey)

August 15th, 2018

From Wanderer, due out October 5th on Domino Recordings. She plays the Mann w/ The National on September 27th.

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INCOMING: Eight Miles High

August 14th, 2018


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EXCERPT: Stephen Miller’s Uncle Is NOT Having It

August 14th, 2018



THE CUT: As White House adviser Stephen Miller continues to push forward brutal “zero-tolerance” immigration policies, the apparent napper’s uncle is now calling him out for hypocrisy in a blistering op-ed. Writing for Politico, he points out that their own family benefitted from the very immigration policies that the Trump administration is reportedly trying to reverse. Neuropsychologist David S. Glosser — whose sister is Miller’s mother — reveals that years ago, members of their family were able to immigrate to the U.S. because of “chain migration,” which allowed a relative to sponsor their entry into the country. MORE

POLITICO: Let me tell you a story about Stephen Miller and chain migration. It begins at the turn of the 20th century, in a dirt-floor shack in the village of Antopol, a shtetl of subsistence farmers in what is now Belarus. Beset by violent anti-Jewish pogroms and forced childhood conscription in the Czar’s army, the patriarch of the shack, Wolf-Leib Glosser, fled a village where his forebears had lived for centuries and took his chances in America.

He set foot on Ellis Island on January 7, 1903, with $8 to his name. Though fluent in Polish, Russian and Yiddish, he understood no English. An elder son, Nathan, soon followed. By street corner peddling and sweatshop toil, Wolf-Leib and Nathan sent enough money home to pay off debts and buy the immediate family’s passage to America in 1906. That group included young Sam Glosser, who with his family settled in the western Pennsylvania city of Johnstown, a booming coal and steel town that was a magnet for other hardworking immigrants. The Glosser family quickly progressed from selling goods from a horse and wagon to owning a haberdashery in Johnstown run by Nathan and Wolf-Leib to a chain of supermarkets and discount department stores run by my grandfather, Sam, and the next generation of Glossers, including my dad, Izzy. It was big enough to be listed on the AMEX stock exchange and employed thousands of people over time. In the span of some 80 years and five decades, this family emerged from poverty in a hostile country to become a prosperous, educated clan of merchants, scholars, professionals, and, most important, American citizens.

What does this classically American tale have to do with Stephen Miller? Well, Izzy Glosser is his maternal grandfather, and Stephen’s mother, Miriam, is my sister. I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, an educated man who is well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants — been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America first” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family likely would have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him. MORE

VANITY FAIR: Meanwhile, as the border crisis spirals, the absence of a coordinated policy process has allowed the most extreme administration voices to fill the vacuum. White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller has all but become the face of the issue, a development that even supporters of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” position say is damaging the White House. “Stephen actually enjoys seeing those pictures at the border,” an outside White House adviser said. “He’s a twisted guy, the way he was raised and picked on. There’s always been a way he’s gone about this. He’s Waffen-SS.” MORE

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SOURCE: Five Habits Of Questionably Effective Racists

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

August 13th, 2018



AMAZON: Siren Song is the autobiography of legendary music biz talent scout/label executive Seymour Stein, the founder of Sire Records and spotter of rock talent from the Ramones to Madonna. Since the late fifties, he’s been wherever it’s happening: Billboard, Tin Pan Alley, The British Invasion, CBGB, Studio 54, Danceteria, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, the CD crash. Along that winding path, he discovered and broke out a skyline full of stars: Madonna, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Madonna, The Smiths, The Cure, Ice-T, Lou Reed, Seal, and many others. Brimming with hilarious scenes and character portraits, Siren Song’s wider narrative is about modernity in motion, and the slow acceptance of diversity in America – thanks largely to daring pop music. Including both the high and low points in his life, Siren Song touches on everything from his discovery of Madonna to his wife Linda Stein’s violent death. MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: The Paradox Of Tolerance

August 13th, 2018



RELATED: Who Is Karl Popper?

RELATED: The Pardox Of Tolerance

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CINEMA: This Is America

August 10th, 2018



BLACKKKLANSMAN (Directed by Spike Lee, 135 minutes, USA, 2018)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC BlacKkKlansman is the real-life story of how the first African American police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan. Starring John David Washington (son of Denzel) as Ron and Adam Driver as his partner, BlacKkKlansman proves to be one of Spike Lee’ most ferocious social commentaries to date cleverly disguised as a hilarious buddy cop movie. Lee uses the very relevant narrative to comment both on the backsliding of race relations in America and how it wasn’t exactly an accident that we got back here in the first place.

Set in the early ‘70s, at the tail end of the Civil Rights movement, the film introduces us to Ron (Washington), an ambitious young rookie who is first tasked with infiltrating the Black Power movement. When he realizes the movement isn’t peopled with the kind of violent radicals his superiors sent him to find and instead encounters a group of embattled minorities struggling for equality he cold calls the Klu Klux Klan after seeing an ad in the paper recruiting new members. Using a phone demeanor that would impress the bosses of the call center in Sorry To Bother You, Ron sets up a meeting with the local chapter of the KKK and uses seasoned Detective Flip Zimmerman (Driver) as the real-life incarnation of his racist caricature. Thanks to Ron’s gift of gab on the phone with David Duke, he quickly moves up the ranks in the KKK and in no time is nominated as chapter president. The investigation begins to attract some unwanted attention when they uncover not only the Klan’s ties to the military, but their plan to impress Duke on his visit to Colorado Springs.

Due in no small part to the daily horrors of the Trump presidency, Lee seems to have recaptured that spark that gave us the kind of scathingly frank commentary coupled with an intimate African American perspective invocative of Do the Right Thing. The director pulls no punches as the film ends with a grim montage illustrating how the KKK’s cycle of racism continues even to this day, ending with the Tiki torch-wielding Nazis descending on Charlottesville. This is the serious message Lee wants to impress on an audience in search of a light buddy cop comedy. Still, BlacKkKlansman is not simply a political statement, it is a funny and thought-provoking film that captures both the ugliness of hate and dogged beauty of the struggle for equality.


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Q&A: Talking Funny w/ SNL’s Melissa Villasenor

August 9th, 2018



mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA Comedian/actress/impressionist extraordinaire Melissa Villasenor was born 30 years ago in Whittier, California. By the age of 12 she was doing impressions of famous people. At the tender age of 15 she did her first stand-up routine at the storied Laugh Factory in Hollywood. By the age of 18 she was a regular at comedy open mic nights around town, often hiding under a hoodie to pass for a dude to get her jokes taken seriously in this sexist world we currently reside in. After years of working the comedy circuit, and an appearance on America’s Got Talent, she landed a job as a performer on SNL in 2016. She has a remarkable gift for impersonating the likes of Owen Wilson, Barbara Walters, Jennifer Lopez, Zooey Deschanel, Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, to name but a few [see the video at the bottom of this Q&A]. She has applied this skill to voiceover work on Family Guy and Adventure Time. She played a waitress on Barry, SNL alum Bill Hader’s new show about a hitman-turned-actor on HBO, and played herself on Judd Apatow’s Crashing. She will be performing at Punchline Philly August 9th-11th, which is why we got her on the horn last week.

DISCUSSED: Tough Latinon moms, Whittier, California, the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp, Britney Speark, NSYNC, Mandy Moore, tattoos, her drawings, Freud, anxiety dreams, seeing Nickelback 56 times, SNL, being bad at talking dirty and the secret to channeling the voicings, body language and facial tics of famous people.

PHAWKER: You grew up in Whittier, California? What can you tell me about that? You have brothers and sisters or are you an only child?

MELISSA VILLASENOR: I have an older brother and a younger brother and sister who are Villasenor_Gwentwins. I’m the middle child. We’re close in age, they’re my best buds. I come from a Mexican family, we’re very close. Sometimes too close? My parents are very funny, they’re opposites. My mom is a really tough Latino mom. My dad is very sensitive, very jolly and my mom is just brutally honest. Polar opposites, but very fun.

PHAWKER: Is anyone else in your family a performer or comedian?

MELISSA VILLASENOR: Nope, no entertainment folks.

PHAWKER: I was reading you started doing stand-up at age 15, is that correct? Like in clubs?

MELISSA VILLASENOR: Yes. I did the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp summer of my sophomore year. I mostly did impressions. I found that online and thought it was cool because most open mics, you can start at any age really but it’s hard when you’re not 18 yet and you can’t be in the club because they’re serving drinks. I started doing open mics at 18, 19. I was starting to do shows in Hollywood.

PHAWKER: I also read you started doing impersonations and impressions when you were twelve?

MELISSA VILLASENOR: Yeah, that’s when I started doing a lot of singing impressions.

PHAWKER: What spurred that? You were just mimicking people on the radio or videos or TV or whatever?

MELISSA VILLASENOR: Yeah I was so obsessed with Britney Spears and NSYNC and Mandy Moore and I think that’s the age when you’re just soaking up a lot. I always loved singing, it comes from loving choir and singing and I think just hearing your voice over and over and realizing, ‘oh man I could change my voice.’
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CINEMA: We Are Young

August 8th, 2018



BY MARIAH HALL Bo Burnham didn’t intend to write and direct a movie about eighth graders, it just worked out that way. In the New Yorker, he confessed, “I wanted to talk about anxiety…Anxiety makes me feel like a terrified thirteen year old.” Burnham started out as a YouTube star in 2006 and managed to flip viral video fame into a comedy career. Now he has written and directed his first film, Eighth Grade, about a middle-school girl named Kayla (Elsie Fisher). She makes YouTube videos that no one watches, aside from her endearing father, played by Josh Hamilton, signing off with the catchphrase, “Gucci!” The beeping Photobooth countdown becomes a repeated motif signaling moments of self-reflection, as the videos she makes are largely life-coaching tidbits delivered in a stuttering, self-conscious voice that feels improvised. That the actress playing a fourteen-year-old is truly fourteen, and her syntax is halting and littered with pauses in the form of “uh” and “like,” adds to the film’s authenticity.

Eighth Grade captures the reality of the collectively hellish middle school experience without falling into indie film coming-of-age narcissism or functioning as an anti-Internet cautionary tale. Most scenes left me cringing with second hand embarrassment, my breath held through painfully awkward moments. From pining after a popular boy to throwing a half-eaten banana at her hovering single parent, it was the perfect blend of melodrama and relatability. Twenty-first century adolescents are hooked on the glow of their iPhones, headphones rarely unplugged. Social media magnifies every insecurity and savages self-esteem. Kids perform their lives rather than living them, hiding behind a glass screen, striving for the validity of likes and followers. In Kayla’s absence of friends, the scroll of Tumblr posts, refreshed Twitter feed, gifs, Snapchat filters and Buzzfeed quizzes, act as emotionally vacant entertainment to distract her from real life.
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BEING THERE: Rise Against @ Festival Pier

August 6th, 2018



Ben Franklin, in his infinite wisdom, once suggested “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.” Chicago veteran punk rockers Rise Against brought their Mourning in Amerika tour to Philadelphia on Saturday night determined to spread Franklin’s sage advice. On tour in support of their new and altogether excellent Wolves album, Rise Against are now in their 19th year of melding Thin Lizzy guitar heroics to Bruce Springsteen-ian heartland earnestness.

Saturday night at the Festival Pier, the band performed in front of a gigantic tarp with an vertical blood red and off-white striped flag bookended by silhouettes of a desperate looking man who appears to be about to jump to uncertainty or possibly certain death. Singer Tim McIlrath anchored the middle of the stage clad in all black a la Johnny Cash, slashing out riffs on his bright white Gibson guitar while lead guitarist Zach Blair and tattooed bassist Joe Principe bounded right to left behind him. Only the tippy top of drummer Brandon Barnes head was visible behind his drum kit but he was easily heard keeping time with great vengeance and furious anger at the back of the stage. Throughout their set, the band was strafed by white laser beams of light and stuttering strobe lights.
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August 6th, 2018



THE ATLANTIC: Settling into a sense of safety is hard when your life’s catalog of memories teaches you the opposite lesson. Imagine: You fled from a government militia intent on murdering you; swam across a river with the uncertain hope of sanctuary on the far bank; had the dawning realization that you could never return to your village, because it had been torched; and heard pervasive rumors of former neighbors being raped and enslaved. Imagine that, following all this, you then found yourself in New York City, with travel documents that were unreliable at best.

This is the shared narrative of thousands of emigrants from the West African nation of Mauritania. The country is ruled by Arabs, but these refugees were members of a black subpopulation that speaks its own languages. In 1989, in a fit of nationalism, the Mauritanian government came to consider these differences capital offenses. It arrested, tortured, and violently expelled many black citizens. The country forcibly displaced more than 70,000 of them and rescinded their citizenship. Those who remained behind fared no better. Approximately 43,000 black Mauritanians are now enslaved—by percentage, one of the largest enslaved populations in the world.

After years of rootless wandering—through makeshift camps, through the villages and cities of Senegal—some of the Mauritanian emigrants slowly began arriving in the United States in the late 1990s. They were not yet adept in English, and were unworldly in almost every respect. But serendipity—and the prospect of jobs—soon transplanted their community of roughly 3,000 to Columbus, Ohio, where they clustered mostly in neighborhoods near a long boulevard that bore a fateful name: Refugee Road. It commemorated a moment at the start of the 19th century, when Ohio had extended its arms to accept another influx of strangers, providing tracts of land to Canadians who had expressed sympathy for the American Revolution.

Refugee Road wasn’t paved with gold, but in the early years of this century, it fulfilled the promise of its name. The Mauritanians converted an old grocery store into a cavernous, blue-carpeted mosque. They opened restaurants that served familiar fish and rice dishes, and stores that sold CDs and sodas imported from across Africa.

Over time, as the new arrivals gave birth to American citizens and became fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Cavaliers, they mentally buried the fact that their presence in America had never been fully sanctioned. When they had arrived in New York, many of them had paid an English-speaking compatriot to fill out their application for asylum. But instead of recording their individual stories in specific detail, the man simply cut and pasted together generic narratives. (It is not uncommon for new arrivals to the United States, desperate and naive, to fall prey to such scams.) A year or two after the refugees arrived in the country, judges reviewed their cases and, noticing the suspicious repetitions, accused a number of them of fraud and ordered them deported.

But those deportation orders never amounted to more than paper pronouncements. Where would Immigration and Customs Enforcement even send them? The Mauritanian government had erased the refugees from its databases and refused to issue them travel documents. It had no interest in taking back the villagers it had so violently removed. So ice let their cases slide. They were required to regularly report to the agency’s local office and to maintain a record of letter-perfect compliance with the law. But as the years passed, the threat of deportation seemed ever less ominous.

Then came the election of Donald Trump. MORE

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