Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

'Stevie Wonder is a musical genius'

08:49am 27 Mar 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

You know that bit - in Eddie Murphy's Delirious when he shouts "Stevie Wonder is a musical genius!" A great bit. From a great comedy show.

It's probably tough work sitting through Delirious now - the endless use of the word 'faggot' as a taunt. And, nearly as offensive, that appalling red leather suit. But Delirious - for better and worse - shaped my childhood. And that line about Stevie Wonder, well, it's funny in theICE CREAM!context of the show, as part of the set-up for a crude, basic joke, a joke that was a knockout in and of its time.

But also, it gave me a phrase to use, one that summed up my own feelings about Stevie Wonder. I had, by the time I was 9 or 10 or whenever I first saw Delirious, been listening to Stevie Wonder my whole life.

My parents reckon that Songs In The Key of Life was the soundtrack to rock me to sleep. That album was so fascinating for me. Right from when I first started checking out the records in mum and dad's collection. That was one of the ones that stood out, its cover - the songbook and bonus EP marking it as different from the rest.

There are half a dozen Stevie Wonder albums that are must-have as far as I'm concerned. And probably you know that already - four of them arrived in just over two years, and it's hard to pick a favourite between Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingess' First Finale. A lot of people go for Talking Book. Innervisions too. I've always held Fulfillingess' First Finale among my absolute favourites - for You Haven't Done Nothin' alone - because it wasn't quite as stacked with hits as the others, made it more interesting in some ways, but Innervisions is perfect. Talking Book is faultless. And just lately I've spent more time with Music of My Mind, the start of that golden run. Back when I first heard all of those albums - it seemed best to just hear them all together, brothers, sisters, a litter of records - Music of My Mind was the standout. It seemed like the mission-statement. The start of something. The true announcement of Wonder - as musical genius, as visionary, virtuoso.

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Stolen moments

07:26am 26 Mar 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

I've just been trying to keep things ticking over this week - as best I can. And as mentioned yesterday hooray for all the guest blogs and guest bloggers (including two "bonus" guest blogs). Bacon-saving

I was offline for a couple of days - no posts, no Facebook, no new content - and though I always enjoy time away from my computer (even, seriously, at the end of last week when it was stolen and the time away from it therefore forced) it was strange feeling completely unconnected from the world (the burglars stole my phone too, and most of my music).

Well, it is, as the man said, the world I know.

There were other things to do - catch up on reading, hang out with Oscar, watch a bit of Dora...

But I've tried to stay on top of things this week, with help from a borrowed laptop.Swiper

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Guest Blog: Electric Six

02:25pm 24 Mar 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

Thanks to all the Right This Blog! entries. In the middle of all that I was burgled, our house broken into, we were there. Asleep. They [the scum of the earth] stole our computers and phones and iPods. Our wallets and cards too. We soldier on. Matthew Kelly, you may remember him from this wonderful guest blog (and just recently he penned some thoughts on Terry Pratchett over at Off The Tracks) stepped up and offered a (bonus) guest blog. I've been working on a borrowed computer to make sure you get your daily fix here. So thanks - heaps - to all the Right This Blog! guest-bloggers. And to Matthew Kelly too. Your guest posts couldn't have arrived at a better time. Take it away Matt...

15th March, 2015

A big storm is due to hit Auckland. It's supposed to be a biggie, and we need to be prepared. That morning, I pack a backpack with the essentials we'll need to get through. Five large bottles of clean water. Flashlights and batteries. First aid kit. Cell phone charger. Swiss army knife. And my Electric Six mix.

10th June, 2014

A big storm actually hits Auckland. A large tree is blown down on my property, crushing the trampoline, which is bad enough, but a hole torn in the roof means a wall in my hallway fills up with water, swells up, and starts to crumble. I'm off work so instead of being distracted by a job, I sit in my house feeling like s**t and unable to do anything except pray the insurance claim goes through. I'm so anxious I can't eat, can't read a book, can't play a game.

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Guest Blog: Like A Virgin - Being a new music blogger in 2015

10:12am 24 Mar 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

This week the inmates are running the asylum. You'll remember I asked you to Right This Blog! Our final guest blogger is Waldo Jeffers with his look at being a new music blogger in 2015.

In 2014 after six years of frazzled post-work coffee-fuelled study sessions and weekends of cram-crazy revision, I finally completed my BA in English Lit at Massey University. In May I will finally be a graduate at last, 24 years after I first enrolled at Queens University in Belfast. One thing I didn't expect when I re-started this degree around a decade ago was how much I'd slowly start to enjoy the craft of writing assignments and how successful I would become when I did come up with the goods. I really got a buzz out of digging deep in vast piles of books to prove a well-laboured point, piecing together a cogent argument based on the evidence and then hacking down the unedited draft to get just under the word limit before sending it on to the tutor. Most of the time I was completely aloof as to whether any of it was any good so much to my surprise the high grades and gushing praise from my tutor kept reminding me again and again that perhaps this was something that might be worth exploring.

So, with that in mind I decided that it might be worth having a crack at putting something together for Bloomsbury's biennial call out for their 33 1/3 series of books. When they make this call out "open", it really is completely "open" - nearly all those who are lucky to get their work on the shelves at the end of the process are first-time writers. My first stab in 2009 was frankly a slap-dash, last-minute effort with little attention to what they were really asking for: I wrote it like an essay rather than as a "treatment" and it roundly got dismissed. The second attempt in 2013 was a bit more considered and far more professional in approach but it too didn't make it.  Shame, as I thought my pitch on The Velvet Underground's 'Third' album was timely, with the rumoured 45th Anniversary re-issue on the horizon. I believed my take on the era (late 1968-early 1970) was an interesting one: "the lost era" of the band's history - Reed's most productive period of writing coupled with the big push on the road to stardom on their terms.

One piece of advice I heard again and again when I brought this double-disappointment up with friends was to at least consider the idea of setting up a blog, keeping my newly acquired skills fresh and active in the short-term. I did set up one immediately after my first 33 1/3 effort - The Napier Record Shack - but work and study commitments meant it never lasted beyond a handful of posts. Back then, I just couldn't devote time away from both to sit down and draft up my musings about what musical ideas were grabbing my attention that week. If there's one downside to these new skills I now have, it's that I'm a middling-to-slow writer - my ideas come in small, sharp bursts and I usually have heaps of writer's block to boot. So, that coupled with work and study meant that this idea was never going to get off the ground back in 2009.

But to get back to the present, time is now what I have heaps of after my degree and so as a result of some New Year optimism and inspiration from our dear leader Mr Sweetman, I started my new blog 33-45-78 shortly after our Xmas holiday break. As this blog odyssey is one long ramble through my long-gestating collection of 40 years, its raison d'etre focuses as much on the personal as well the musical. Each record has a memory of a time and a place for me and it's as much about getting a sense of that record's head space as much as what I think of the record itself now. The blog itself isn't fancy looking as it's one of the standard templates Blogger provides but I try to at least give it my own stamp by adding pictures of my own of labels or any other interesting paraphernalia around the record itself.

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Guest Blog: The kids are not all right

10:41am 23 Mar 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

This week the inmates are running the asylum. You will remember I asked you to Right This Blog! So today here's our "Wild Card" Mike R. and his discussion of the Riot Grrrl and Black Metal scenes.

I read a lot of books about music. Sometimes they are on topics I have a real passion for, sometimes they just look interesting. Liking the actual music under discussion is not necessarily relevant to finding a good read.

Every now and then I stumble across a couple of books that read like companion-pieces. Sometimes it's unsurprising - for example Matt Thorne and Marc Dolan's excellent recent biographies of single-minded bandleaders/icons Prince and Bruce Springsteen. Sometimes though, two books will highlight connections you might have never thought to look for.

Such was the case recently when I got to the last page of Sara Marcus's Girls to The Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, and picked up Dayal Patterson's Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult.

On the face of it, the Riot Grrrl (their spelling, in case you're wondering) and black metal scenes of the late 80s/90s shared nothing but a timeframe. Kicking off in Olympia, Washington, Riot Grrrl was a feminist punk principality in America's alternative nation - a DIY cross-pollination of the Pacific northwest scene that birthed Nirvana and Fugazi's socially conscious Washington DC hardcore. Dedicated to empowerment and activism, Riot Grrrl was not beyond criticism, but it was undeniably positive in its intent.Riot Grrrl

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