What’s The Word?

The word is this byrd has been busy! Now that I’ve finished moving in and out and in again, I thought I would switch things up and share some of what I’ve been reading this summer.

I stumbled upon issue #56 of Wax Poetics Magazine about three years ago and, after reading it cover to cover, immediately went online to order a truly gluttonous amount of back issues. Being able to read firsthand accounts from legendary soul, funk, and hip-hop artists and producers while also being introduced to new artists that evolved from those traditions continues to send me into a feverish frenzy. If learning about the influences of creative people and collecting little nuggets of music history is your thing, I recommend Wax Poetics. The current issue contains an article highlighting Cynthia Robinson of Sly and The Family Stone, words of remembrance for Capitol Records composer/ producer, David Axelrod, and an interview with sampling master, DJ Shadow (read more about him in this 1997 article from the UK’s The Independent).


Aside from spending time with their recordings and hearing their musical perspective, reading an artist’s actual words and seeing how they organize their thoughts adds another layer of intimacy that I crave from artists I admire. In I Put a Spell on You, Nina Simone talks about realizing her ability to connect at a deep level and spiritually transcend her audiences as a performer. She recalls feeling like a toreador in control of a bull and says, “I went out from the mid-sixties onwards determined to get every audience to enjoy my concerts the way I wanted them to, and if they resisted at first I had all the tricks to bewitch them with” (pg 93). In addition to her musical history, Simone describes her familial relationships, how she began working as an activist, and the events that influenced her fresh start in Africa. For a more visual look at Simone’s life, check out the 2016 documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?

The stream of consciousness style of Beneath the Underdog allows readers to look deeper not just into Charles Mingus’s everyday world (however fictitious), but into his psyche. Between mostly dialogue-lead stories involving pimps, prostitutes, and fellow musicians, Mingus reflects on his childhood, contemplates his individual reality as a black man, and expresses complex ideas about love and about God. Unlike Simone, Mingus talks very little about his music and, instead, simply reveals the personality of the man who created the music and the environment that produced him. After getting through the wild adventure that is Beneath the Underdog I decided to follow up with Tonight at Noon: A Love Story by Mingus’s last wife, Sue Graham Mingus. Sue and Charles led drastically different lives before getting together which made them seem an unlikely pair, but the beauty and uniqueness of their relationship (when compared to the two women Mingus was seeing concurrently throughout Underdog) is apparent through the last months of Mingus’s struggle with ALS.

Each episode of Song Exploder comes with an illustration of the artist. Here is David Longstreth of The Dirty Projectors.

On a slightly unrelated note, donating plasma the past few weeks (to take care of some moving expenses) has been a rewarding experience for a number of reasons… one of them being the chance to sit and listen to podcasts worth mentioning in conversations such as these. Song Exploder is a great podcast for people who are interested in learning, piece by piece, how a song was put together. Even if I’m already familiar with the song, the last listen after discovering its individual parts is always an eye-opening experience. You can listen online or you can download episodes wherever you listen to podcasts. Once Spotify came along I lost all interest in using Pandora but since it’s the only place you can hear Questlove Supreme, I had to go back in time and recover my middle school era password I used for everything. The show is hosted by everyone’s favorite afro-wearing drummer, Questlove, and episodes are generally comprised of interviews, lots of jokes, and– my personal favorite– a mixtape curated by Questlove himself. Consequence of Sound calls it a “music junkie’s dream” and it is exactly that.

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Some of you may have noticed that there weren’t any playlists the past two months– my bad. The new playlist will be twice the size and twice as nice! In the meantime, you can look forward to these recent/ upcoming releases:
Daniel Caesar- Freudian (out now)
Tyler the Creator- Flower Boy (out now)
Moses Sumney- Aromanticism (Sept 22)
Cecile McLorin Savant- Dreams and Daggers (Sept 29)
Kamasi Washington- Harmony of Difference (Sept 29)
Kelela- Take Me Apart (Oct 6)
St Vincent- Masseduction (Oct 13)
Nai Palm *of Hiatus Kaiyote*- Needle Paw (Oct 20)
Amber Navran *of Moonchild*- Speak Up (Oct)
Angel Olsen- Phases (Nov 10)
Esperanza Spalding- Exposure (Nov)
Bjork- Utopia (Nov)

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