Musical Fugazi: Politics, Post Punk, and Reevaluating D.C.’s Most Famous Rock Band 25 Years Later

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Last December, amidst one of D.C.’s colder and more snow-filled winters, a symbol of the city’s musical past appeared above one of its most travelled corridors. Over the I-495 Beltway on the CSX railroad bridge between Georgia and Connecticut Avenues, someone had spray painted six glorious uneven letters: “Fugazi.” The band had not played a note in over a decade yet here it stood a rough-hewn testament to their one-time presence. “I find it odd that someone painted ‘Fugazi’ on a railroad bridge in 2014,” wrote John Kelly in the Washington Post, “It’s like painting ‘Clapton is God’ on a London brick wall today. The moment has passed.”[1] To Kelly’s credit, he quickly pointed out that a … [Read more...]

Revolutionary Eruption: The Violent Sound of Magma and Musical Fusion in 1970s France

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What follows is an excerpt from Sounds French: Globalization, Cultural Communities and Pop Music, 1958-1980, the new book by Indiana University Northwest professor (and ToM contributor) Jonathyne Briggs.  It examines the history of popular music in France between the arrival of rock and roll in 1958 and the collapse of the first wave of punk in 1980, as well as the connections between musical genres and concepts of community in French society. During this period, scholars have tended to view the social upheavals associated with postwar reconstruction as part of debates concerning national identity in French culture and politics, a tendency that developed from political figures’ and … [Read more...]

Taylor Swift, 1989, and the Magic of Nostalgic NYC

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In October 2014, Taylor Swift dropped her fifth album, 1989. Less than a month later in November, she performed the first track off 1989, “Welcome to New York.” Letterman guffawed, the crowd gasped, and Swift looked like the seasoned artist she is, confidently belting out the song’s chorus with hand claps and poise galore. Without a doubt, “Welcome to New York,” like many of the songs off the album, nails all the peaks and valleys one would expect from an earworm by Ms. Swift, and it opens with the kind of universal experience that any Midwesterner new to the city can understand. That first trip to the “village,” the crowds of fellow young people all jostling to see and hear what movies and … [Read more...]

The Gonzo Vision of Lana Del Rey

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I do not know for a fact that Lizzy Grant, the canny songwriter behind Lana Del Rey, secretly earned an American Studies degree at SUNY-Geneseo, but all the evidence points in that direction. Lana Del Rey is, of course, the pop ventriloquist act who burst onto the scene in 2012—a ginger-haired gun moll with big hoop earrings, a moody disposition, and a lavish taste for 1960s torch-song atmospherics. Del Rey is a character invented by Grant: a full package of image, attitude, and sound that results in a familiar yet singular image. Indeed, her brand is that of the femme fatale in its most frankly Platonic form. Grant’s bio reads like an uptown-downtown hipster inversion of Jack … [Read more...]

ToM “Besties” of 2014

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Hello there. You are now witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men. And it ain’t so simple, treasonous crime. No it ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why When Detroit’s Protomartyr released their 2014 album Under Color of Official Right (itself eerily descriptive of public discourse from all sides this year), how could they have known their mix of Wire-like punk dirges would be emblematic of the last 12 months? The year seemed punctuated by rough arguments, sometimes violent confrontations, and the kind of disagreements that as Protomartyr sings, “Ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why.” Yet, our little blog dedicated to engaging these sorts of “conflicts” … [Read more...]

Tropics of Meta “Staffers” Pick the Best of 2014

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Each year, Tropics of Meta's intrepid team of cultural critics reports on the best of the year's music, movies, TV, scholarship and so forth.  We've commented on artists as humorless as Aimee Mann and as humorful as Chance the Rapper; we've listened to Harry Nilsson and showered with Greta Van Susteren. (And that was before her head transplant!)  This year, though, we decided to sound out our contributors on a battery of highly social-scientific questions, prompting some fascinating responses.  You think you know, but it's weird to learn what your friends and colleagues are actually into.  So here you have it: the first-ever ToMmys! 1. Best Academic Book/Article Nick Juravich: Roberta … [Read more...]

What Our Contributors Have Been Up To

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Each year we ask our contributors to tell us what else they have been writing, publishing, or otherwise working on.  Incredibly, as it turns out, the writers of ToM do not spend all of their time working on material for this site.  In fact, their work has been landing in the esteemed pages of The Nation, Dissent and more, while our friends at the South El Monte Arts Posse's East of East project has been blowing up both at ToM and KCET. Below you will find the latest news from some of our contributors and links to some great pieces.  If you're a ToM contributor and would like to add something to the list, hit us up. Alex's essay "Atlanta's Beltline Meets the Voters," based on a 2012 ToM … [Read more...]

“Let It Be”: The Replacements, Generation X, and Sexuality 30 Years Later

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"If they hadn't come along I think we would have to invent them somehow," impressively bearded writer Robert Voedisch told filmmakers in 2011’s Color Me Obsessed. Sprawling over two hours, the documentary captures the feelings of affection, disbelief, and for many fans in regard to the last few albums, despair, that the infamous Minneapolis postpunk band the Replacements inspired. Indeed, the level of reverence that fans hold for a band clearly defined by irreverence remains palpable. They were a 1980s Velvet Underground, notes one; they may have sold few records, but everyone who picked one up joined a band. “The great existential heroes of American Indie rock,” Titus Andronicus lead singer … [Read more...]

I Listened to the New U2 Album So You Don’t Have to

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I, like millions of other Apple users, woke up to find that Tim Cook had bought me an album. Incredibly, the tech giant had decided to (sort of) download a new U2 record into everyone’s iTunes library for free. The publicity stunt prompted speculation about what the move meant for the music industry—the decline of the album as a format vs. streaming/piracy, and the way U2, whose sales have been declining for years, benefited from Apple's mass distribution in order to promote its more-lucrative tours. Not to mention the fact that, more than a decade after the launch of the iTunes store, it was Apple that seemed to be running the show, not labels or artists. To me, the U2 move called to … [Read more...]

Album 88: Historically Right on the Music, Presently Leaving the Dial

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Since 1971, Georgia State University has hosted an important Atlanta cultural institution—one that has created a positive relationship between the University and the city (and the general metro area). WRAS, known as Album 88, has allowed GSU students to bring their musical discoveries to Atlanta listeners. In doing so, this student-run radio station has been a touchstone for the local community for over four decades. What began as a 20,000 watt local college station has become a 100,000 watt megaphone for independent music in Atlanta and beyond. In the past 43 years, student volunteers at Georgia State University have had a voice in shaping the local and national music scene. During this … [Read more...]

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