Born For Love: Juan Gabriel’s Ballads of Solitude, and the Pain of Immigration


It’s difficult to overstate the ubiquity of Juan Gabriel’s voice in the everyday lives of Mexicans, both here in the US and in Mexico, where the megastar’s dozens of hits, some of them decades old, still blare from roadside fondas, urban nightclubs, and the blown out stereo speakers in my uncle’s home in Zamora, Michoacan. From disco, to rancheras, to ballads, and everything in between, Juan Gabriel’s signature melancholic exuberance was at once relatable and alien: relatable in the heartbreak and poverty to which it often spoke; and alien in the unabashedly flamboyant style that came to define him. Perhaps especially because of his flamboyance and the often unspoken subtext of his desires, … [Read more...]

The Miranda-Obama Collaboration (From Hamilton to Puerto Rico)

Hamilton Burr musical

On March 14, President Barack Obama welcomed the company of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton to a special White House performance.  In his introductory remarks, Obama celebrated Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop rendering of Alexander Hamilton’s “quintessentially American story,” and quickly identified the reason why the show has become a “cultural phenomenon.”  “In each brilliantly crafted song,” said the president, “we hear the debates that shaped our nation, and we hear the debates that are still shaping our nation.” Shifting to the same playful tone that has characterized his other recent public appearances, Obama even staked a claim to his own role in getting the show off the ground.  He … [Read more...]

Sex and the Purple Guy


For a generation of youth--queer and non-queer alike--Prince cleared the path to a different way of embodying gender and sexuality. I recited the intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” at my wedding reception in 2006, to a room of largely puzzled fifty- and sixty-somethings.  When the news of Prince’s passing dropped this afternoon, a wave of horror ripped through my Media Studies class, and almost by instinct I stood before the students and spoke the Purple One’s classic words once again: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life. Electric word ‘life,’ it means forever and that’s a mighty long time but I’m here to tell you there’s something else… the afterworld… It … [Read more...]

OK Go and the Revival of Music Video Culture

Busby Berkeley dreams

It was late on a Friday, and I was hanging out with my parents in Gastonia, NC.  They asked me I had seen the zero-gravity video on the plane. I had indeed seen reports of OK Go’s latest viral clip in my Facebook feed and other online news sources—having seen a few of their quite clever setpieces before I figured the new video would probably have a cool gimmick all its own, but I had not bothered to check it out (much as I heard roiling, boiling controversy about Bey and Kendrick the same week without actually seeing what caused all the ruckus). But it was kind of cool to sit with my mom and stepdad and see them enthused about new music—and more than that, to see an utterly daring, … [Read more...]

The Sound of Motor City: Ruin Porn, Popular Memory, and Protomartyr’s Vision of 21st Century Detroit


For the past couple years, one of the most vital sounds in music today has come out of that ruined city of the middle west, Detroit.   “Before recorded time, in some suburban room, see the devil in his youth,” Protomartyr’s Joe Casey croons over a rapid postpunk beat. “He grew up pale and healthy with the blessings of his father.” Indeed, Detroit’s residents might recognize the suburban devil depicted in the opening song of band’s third album The Agent Intellect. “His privilege came before him, the promise of adoring, the devil in his youth.” Anyone familiar with the Motor City’s postwar history knows the critical place race has played in Detroit’s rise, fall, and current but perhaps not … [Read more...]

Callbacks, Memes, & Guilty Pleasures: The Rest of the Best 2015

Dekalb County GA govt; but it looks so pure ...

"All we can do is stand and leer at the distance of another year." As 2015 comes to a close, ToM's writers provide that last, merciful blast of best of's from historical callbacks to new discoveries of older things, we aim to bring you info about life you really don't need. Charles Lee Best historical callback: The hysteria around terrorism and reactionary violence against Muslim-Americans  evokes the tragic case of Japanese-American internment, the struggles of inclusive citizenship and the troublesome notion of the permanent alien. Favorite discovery: Hassle-free membership plans at the YMCA (take that fancy gyms).  And modular synths.  But not necessarily together. [Editor's note: I … [Read more...]

Outlanders, Young Fathers, & None Masters: Best Albums and TV Shows of 2015


We live in an era when the music industry is long since "dead" (slain by Napster, and its remains desecrated by YouTube and Spotify), while TV is in crisis too: the broadcast networks have shed viewers for years, and now even the big cable companies realize they're in deep trouble, attacked on all sides by Hulu and Google Fiber. Yet for fans of music and TV, times have almost never been better -- at least in the sense of having a super-abundance of (often very good) options. Yes, for every Mad Men or Broad City there are ten Real Housewives of Plano, Texas and competitive nose-hair shows. (Though Schnozz Master was actually pretty good this year.) And your cousin has a web series that's … [Read more...]

A Look Back at A Brilliant Mistake

tsunami a brilliant mistake

Recently, the great historians at Nursing Clio issued a Twitter query: what's on your feminist playlist? Along with many other Twitterstorians, the chatterers of ToM joined the debate with gusto. Ryan Reft gave a shout-out to Sleater-Kinney's punk rock classic Dig Me Out and PJ Harvey's seminal Rid of Me. Lauren MacIvor Thompson gave this writer a welcome blast from the past in citing Mary Chapin Carpenter's epic anthem of working-class self-empowerment, "He Thinks He'll Keep Her," which I hadn't heard in years. I had a tough time picking my own. Patti Smith's raw, swaggering cover of "Gloria" seemed too obvious, but I couldn't resist putting it on the list. Ryan had already taken … [Read more...]

Swiftian Springsteen: Ryan Adams, Taylor Swift and 1989


Eight years ago, the avant-garde group/collective the Dirty Projectors released Rise Above, an album that bandleader David Longstreth described as a track-by-track “reimagining” of Black Flag’s 1981 Henry Rollins-era opus, Damaged. In its performance of Rise Above, Dirty Projectors’ almost resembled Black Flag: “serious, somewhat inhuman stuff, which is possibly why the band never smiles onstage: Longstreth, wide-eyed and focused, hair like wild grass ….” wrote Pitchfork’s Mike Powell. However, to say that the two scarcely sounded similar would be a massive understatement. For Powell, Damaged functioned more as a musical “anchor” for Longstreth’s “polyrhythmic arrangements.” In the end, the … [Read more...]

Walk with Me: Laibach Plays North Korea

laibach north korea

As summer comes to a close, two anniversaries—decades and miles apart—collide. The Slovenian industrial band/artists collective Laibach celebrates 35 years of professional provocation this year. Across the globe, Korea marks seven decades since liberation from Japanese occupation. On August 19th and 20th, Laibach performed in Korea to celebrate both events—but in Pyongyang, not Seoul surprisingly enough. The first rock band to perform in North Korea is a band that never had a Billboard hit or headlined stadium tours in the United States, as one might expect. For those unfamiliar with the band, Laibach came together in 1980 in what was then Yugoslavia, now Slovenia. They formed mere months … [Read more...]