Kendrick Lamar – DAMN

I am not a music critic and don’t have the best language for this, but I am going to attempt to tell you why the new #KendrickLamar album is so remarkable. Imagine when you are 16 years old you try something. You are a natural and over 10 years you become the best in the world at it. At some point in the future you are 29 and you learn all the success in your life is based on one choice made 25 years ago. This choice had nothing to do with you. It was arbitrary. You realize there were different possible versions of you based on this choice. Permutations that existed, but didn’t come to be. You decide to undertake an exercise of extreme empathy and make a record based on a version of you who had to deal with the opposite of the choice that was made. The record you make #DAMN represents how narrow the window of possibilities is that we slip through is and how many other possible versions of us exist. For some they are better for some they are worse, but they always exist. In my own life I sometimes feel the echoes and reverberations other versions of me would have dealt with, but I never did. Those tales become coiled in my head despite their non-existence. It is powerful to hear one such tale recorded over 80 minutes.

– Gene Mclaughlin May 2017

A Great Forgotten Record of the 1990’s Big Chief – Mack Avenue Skullgame

In 1993 I bought a record called Mack Avenue Skull Game.  It was was a fake soundtrack to a 70’s urban movie that never existed.  For a while I thought it was a real movie and it in the days before the internet it could take a while to find your way to the truth.  The band was never overly famous and never hit it big although they did have somewhat of a following and when I saw them live once it was a full room.  The album itself reminds me of a Tarantino movie.  It is a record made by white people and is a respectful homage to 70’s black music that stands on its own.  I equate it with Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.  I listened to it on Spotify recently see how it held up 20 years later.  The record is still strong.  The music is still gritty and tight and the vocals are occasionally remarkably.  It drives forward with momentum and never dwells too long in one place.  What sounded somewhat out of place in 1991 is much less out of place in 2014 as the world has come full circle and if Big Chief were touring today they be on the summer circuit festival making crowds move in the summer sun.  It is a record that was out of place in 1993, but it did make many people like me find our ways to the original 70’s funk records that inspired it.  On Spotify there is no related artists tab, because Big Chief kind of stood alone for 1993 any related artists would be from a generation before.  Personally I am grateful for the record as a gateway to funk.  I don’t know much about what happened to Big Chief and I don’t know much background information on them.  I kid of like it that way, the album just stands on its own.  I don’t think Big Chief made a record after Mack Avenue Skullgame, but for me it stands as a great record that time forgot.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2014

The Equanimity of Waterfalls

Spring Waterfall

The waterfall knows no equanimity

In early spring it rages

From the remnants of melting snow

In fall it is bone dry

Depleted

From the heat of the scorching summer

In winter it is still

The water cold and iced upon its rocks

The effort is

Throughout the seasons

To keep the waterfall in your mind

From early summer

When it is steady

Calm

Flowing

The water will escape its state

It always does

As will you

The effort is holding

Equanimity in your mind

When late spring is gone

And the water is a storm

Or drought

Gene G. McLaughlin 2014

 

 

A Few Words On Lou Reed

Lou Reed was a capable musician, a fine songwriter, the epitome of cool, a jerk, uncompromising, and an icon of both the great and terrible things of the last 50 years.  His songs could be beautiful, touching, searing, self indulgent, disorganized, and compositions of remarkable skill.  The thing that was always shocking upon first encountering him was how mercilessly honest, self aware, and naked his art was.  Lou Reed represented truth in music and self expression in a way that could be jarring and unpleasant, but left one with the feeling they had encountered something real and tangible. At his best his songs were an artifact of a moment.  Those of us who followed his career and considered ourselves fans were not always entertained or pleased by what he choose to present to us, but in the end we stuck around because we never felt like we were lied to and our lives were richer for listening to what he had to say about the human condition.  When he was at the height of his powers and combined melody, realism, beats and words together there was nobody like him.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2013