I’m Todd L. Burns, and welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. I highlight some of the best stuff I hear, read, and watch every week; publish news about the industry; and interview writers, scholars, and editors about their work. My goal is to share knowledge, celebrate great work, and expand the idea of what music journalism is—and where it happens. Questions, comments, concerns? You can reach me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today in the newsletter: Interviews with Richard Cruz Davila, who researches Tejano music in the Midwest; Southeast Asian nightlife correspondent Nyshka Chandran; two of the folks behind a new documentary about CREEM; and the editors of a collection about popular song in the 19th century. Plus: Reading recommendations, lots of podcast stuff, and much more! But first…
A Programming Note
Later this week, I’ll be sending out the first in a series of guest-penned features on important music magazines. Freelance writer Maria Barrios has written a wonderful piece on the Argentinian publication El Expreso Imaginario, which was produced during the country’s civic-military dictatorship in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Keep an eye out for it!
Donovan X. Ramsey has an excellent profile of rapper Killer Mike
This story about the forgotten song collectors of The New Deal is fascinating [h/t Ted Gioia]
Yuko Asanuma reports on “the artists and activists at the heart of a new socio-cultural movement in Tokyo”
Doyin Oyeniyi writes about how listening to Willie Nelson brought her closer to her mother
Aaron Gilbreath rounds up a host of great reads about Bob Dylan
Andre J. Gee writes that all rap music is political
Gabriel Szatan makes some predictions about what partying post-pandemic will look like
The Guardian has started a series of features about iconic festival sets
Natalie Weiner highlights jazz’s LGBTQ roots
Jeffrey Arlo Brown ranks all 559 sonatas by Scarlatti
Q&A: Richard Cruz Davila
Richard Cruz Davila is a research specialist at The Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University. Richard’s current interests are primarily focused around Mexican American/Latinx music, especially Tejano music in the Midwest, but his dissertation was on the Chicanx and Latinx punk scenes in LA and Chicago. Earlier this month, he contributed liner notes to Introducing Martin & Los Primos, the first-ever recordings to be released by Tejano music pioneer and Tejano ROOTS Hall of Fame member Martin Solis. In this excerpt from our interview, Richard offers advice for aspiring music scholars.
My advice for students of color in particular is to not let others’ biases and blind spots make you question the value of your work. When I would talk to people about my dissertation so many were surprised to find out that there even were Latinx punks. “I didn’t know there were punks in Mexico” was probably the wildest response. Or the member of the institutional review board who asked if any of my respondents would be “illegal aliens.”
Reactions like these are exactly the reason why we need more scholars of color writing about their own communities. Finding an advisor who will push you to think through shortcomings in your work is key, but don’t stick with someone who questions the validity of your research or makes you question your worthiness. (This wasn’t an issue for me, thankfully.)
Read the full interview with Richard here.
A Cause Worth Supporting
This week’s cause worth supporting comes from Richard Cruz Davila.
This hasn’t been making headlines so much recently because everything is terrible, but the border crisis is ongoing. RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) is an organization doing important work on the border to defend the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers. They offer pro bono legal services to migrants, including to families and children in detention and children who would otherwise have to go to court with no representation.
Podcasts To Listen To
Pitchfork launched its new podcast with a dissection of TikTok
Marianna Ritchey talks about her recent book Composing Capital: Classical Music in the Neoliberal Era on New Books in Music
The new season of Origins is all about Almost Famous; among other revelations, apparently Brad Pitt was almost the Golden God
Jenn Pelly discusses her 33 1/3 book The Raincoats on the Bloomsbury Academic Podcast
Jonathan Van Ness (yes, that one) explores anti-racism in classical music with Kira Thurman and Ashleigh Gordon
A bit late to this, but Gary Suarez talked about the state of music journalism on Dad Bod Rap Pod
Podcasts, News And Notes
Jim Beaugez talks with the team behind Song Exploder about the work that goes into producing the show
Andy Cush, Sam Sodomsky, and Winston Cook-Wilson are launching a new podcast about Late Era albums by big-name musicians
WABE has dropped Christina Lee and Regina Bradley’s Southern hip-hop podcast Bottom of the Map
Rissi Palmer is launching a podcast next week called Color Me Country
Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott have launched a Red Hot Chili Peppers podcast
Steve Barker’s long-running show On The Wire has been dropped by the BBC
Laid Off? Made Redundant?
I recently got an email from an editor who is in the process of being made redundant, and they wanted advice from other folks who have gone through similar experiences. If you have advice you'd be willing to share, I’d love to share it in the newsletter. What were the first few things that you did when you were laid off or made redundant? What's something you wish you had done differently? Hit reply on this email, and I may present your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.
Q&A: Nyshka Chandran
Nyshka Chandran is a writer based in Southeast Asia, covering politics, nightlife and fashion. Nyshka started her writing career focusing on politics and business, but after a VICE article in 2016, has spent more and more time devoted to music, with bylines in Resident Advisor, Bandcamp Daily, and more. Here’s an excerpt from our full interview.
What's your favorite part of all this?
Music journalism can be a great exercise in self-reflection. The process of structuring my thoughts, identifying the angles I want to highlight and experimenting with the art of presenting an argument is super fun for nerds like myself.
If you had to point folks to one piece of yours, what would it be and why?
My first music feature from 2016 that I did with a friend on drum and bass in Singapore. At that time, it was hard trying to get big outlets to pay attention to scenes in Asia and whilst things are a little better now, I'll never forget that feeling of being able to tell the story of my friends to an international audience.
Read the full interview with Nyshka here.
ICYMI: Truants has a Patreon
The Walker Art Center has launched a huge digital project called Living Collections Catalogue—Creative Black Music at the Walker: Selections from the Archives
La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela have launched a GoFundMe to save The Dream House
Matthew Ingram is launching his new book, Retreat, with a psychedelic presentation tomorrow at 7 PM BST
Stuff You Gotta Watch
Episode Two of Hip-Hop Evolution’s fourth season shines a light on the sub-genre-defining artists of Houston, Memphis, and Atlanta. Given it’s a Canadian production hosted by MC Shad and the directing duo of Darby Wheeler and Rodrigo Bascuñán, it’s impressive how much access the show’s creators have to archival footage, rarely heard music, and illuminating new interviews with the subjects themselves.
While they can't always land interviews with superstars, this standout episode features talking head clips from nearly everyone involved in its central stories. Following a bleary-eyed, slow motion gaze into DJ Screw’s chopped and screwed mixtapes, it gives a much-deserved toast to DJ Spanish Fly, delves into an excavation of Three Six Mafia’s original horrorcore sound, and concludes with the crunk party chants of Lil Jon. For hip-hop heads who haven’t clued in yet, the series is a must-watch, and this episode in particular will make you buck jump off your couch.
Q&A: CREEM Documentary
CREEM was one of the most celebrated US rock magazines of the ‘70s. And, now, somehow, there’s a documentary celebrating its wild run. Perhaps best known for its incandescent star writer/editor Lester Bangs, the list of staffers and freelancers who were involved is pretty incredible: Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Cameron Crowe, and Robert Christgau are just a few of the names that you’d see in any given issue. In this excerpt from my interview with director Scott Crawford and Jaan Uhelszki, a CREEM staffer who co-produced and co-wrote the film, they offer some advice to anyone looking to making a documentary film right now.
Scott Crawford: It’s a difficult world to navigate—and relatively small in the Hollywood scheme of things. So find a unique story about an equally unique artist/subject and get started. I come from a DIY background and I always approach things that way. Prepare yourself for plenty of setbacks, booze, heartbreak, tears, and triumphs. But it’s all worth it in the end.
Jaan Uhelszki: Don’t take no for an answer. If you want someone in your movie, keep asking. Try everyone you know, ask the intended subjects, parents, their neighbors, their dry cleaners to help you. Don’t give up! Also, pay attention to what the story is. Don’t go in with an inflexible idea of the narrative. You have to follow the interviews, and the real story will be revealed.
Read the full interview with Scott and Jaan here.
Did You Know?
There used to be a CD format that included “extended graphics”
Viggo Mortensen and Buckethead have collaborated on multiple albums
The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog, originally published on CD-ROM in 1988, is now online
One of the earliest examples of copyright protection involved a publisher threatening to put a curse on anyone reprinting the works without permission
She's Just Not That Into You
Q&A: Cheap Print and Popular Song in the Nineteenth Century
Paul Watt, Derek B. Scott, and Patrick Spedding are the editors of a collection entitled Cheap Print and Popular Song in the Nineteenth Century: A Cultural History of the Songster. As the editors explain, songsters were “pocket-sized anthologies of popular songs that were cheap, printed in large numbers and distributed far and wide. They were cheap because songsters overwhelmingly contained only song texts—words, not music—which means that they could be printed by any printer.” In this excerpt from our interview, Patrick Spedding talks about the song he found most interesting in his research.
Patrick Spedding: Scouting the Devil: Or, The Mad Dog. [BSRP ¶0348] This eight-stanza song concerns a “buxom young damsel” who goes to a priest to confess her many sins of the flesh. Having heard the details, he gives her absolution and sends her away—but her “lecherous passions” lead her astray once again. When she returns, the priest tries to find out why her “passion’s so hot.” The damsel explains that it was the bite of a rabid dog (!) followed by curative sea bathing; or, rather, attempting to cover herself up while bathing, since “To hide my young Fanny” from some sailors she put her injured “hand down below” and accidentally touches herself: “the touch of my hand drove my Fanny quite mad / And from that day to this" it "is longing with lust and desire.” The priest declares that “A devil is in you” and so—like Boccaccio’s Rustico—drives out the devil in a manner “that pleased her full well.”
What interests me about this poem, is not the oddly-transmitted madness of the dog—from dog to hand to “down below”—it is the word used for its destination: “Fanny.” Though capitalised, this is one of the earliest known texts in which the word fanny is used, unambiguously, with its modern (British and Australian) obscene meaning. In our BSRP collection as a whole, the word appears seventy times (in thirty-four songs). In twenty-nine cases (fourteen songs), it is used as a name (alone); in eighteen (six songs) there is some suggestion of punning; in six more (four songs), the pun is clear; the remaining seventeen (eleven songs) are like this, unambiguous. The range of usages demonstrates that the meaning of the word was evolving, and how it was evolving. I explored this evidence from songs such as this in an essay on the history of the word “fanny,” and was anxious to see the songsters in print so that others could explore these previously-unavailable texts in their own way.
Read the full interview with Paul, Derek, and Patrick here.
The 46th Annual Conference of the Society for American Music will take place virtually this week
Call for Papers: A special issue of IASPM Journal is focused on Crises At Work
A new edition of the French journal of popular music studies, Volume, has been published
A group of music theorists is hosting a group analysis this Friday focused on music by composers of color
Call for Papers: The Journal of Sonic Studies is preparing a special issue on the Balkans
Meanwhile, On Twitter
People are re-scoring the Disney re-opening ad
The entertainment manager of a care home is re-creating album covers with portraits of residents
Matthew Perpetua has collected a huge list of independent music media
This Twitter thread on applying for freelance copywriting gigs is excellent
Eli Enis explains why the premiere economy is likely over
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The Closing Credits