Freedom Rock

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J. Freedom du Lac
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post music critic J. Freedom du Lac is online every Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET to talk about the latest on the music scene: alternative, country, alt-country, pop, hyphy, harp-rock, reggae, reggaeton, R and B and whatever it is that Britney Spears does.

The transcript follows.

washingtonpost.com: 'You Just Keep Going, Baby'; Shining a Light on The Stones' Keith Richards

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washingtonpost.com: Headliners Picked For Virgin Festival

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J. Freedom du Lac: Early contender for album of the year honors: James McMurtry's forthcoming "Just Us Kids." I'll have more on that later. Much, much more. So what's up?

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What?: No Pulitzer? Like I'm ever coming back to this chat...

J. Freedom du Lac: That's what I'm saying. I'm really hoping Steve Pearlstein will guest-host this chat next week. You know, to discuss the economic guitar work of B.B. King.

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Seekonk, Mass.: Mr.du Lac,

I just finished reading your interview with Rick Rubin. Time and again, it is said of him that the song is most important.

My situation: I am advocating for one heck of a songwriter who hasn't a band and is not a vocalist, but has a catalogue of songs Rick Rubin will appreciate. From all I've read about Mr. Rubin, he would be the go-to guy for these songs. Your opinion, please: Is it just BS, or do you get the sense he, in fact, has an open policy on submissions? While I am, obviously, so far outside any sphere of influence, and seem, to you, quite naive, I assure you, I know what a good song is. I seek and appreciate your input. What would you do?

J. Freedom du Lac: Ah, Rick Rubin. Seems like it's been forever since I interviewed him. Wonder how that beard is looking these days.

I'm thinking you should probably get the writer on board with a publishing company so the folks there can shop the songs around. It is, after all, what they do. I don't have any first-hand experience in this, but I'm guessing it's the best/easiest way to sell songs, unless you or the writer happen to be at a cocktail party with somebody who knows somebody - or is somebody - and one thing leads to another leads to a hit project leads to a new house with an infinity pool and a 2,000-bottle wine cellar and whatnot.

Rick is definitely a song-first kind of guy, but he tends to produce artists who write those songs themselves or collaborate closely with a small handful of writers, a la the last Dixie Chicks album. He doesn't generally bring in songs from the outside, unless he's doing something like that great series of Johnny Cash albums that launched in 1994. Pretty much all of it was interpretive work.

Just a guess here, but you'd probably have a tough time getting through to Rubin, who is still doing some production stuff while working as co-chief of Columbia Records.

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Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Who's a more underappreciated guitarist......Peter Buck, Johnny Marr or Lindsey Buckingham?

J. Freedom du Lac: Patty Larkin. Obviously.

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Washington, D.C.: What's good lately?

J. Freedom du Lac: A few, in no particular order:

The new James McMurtry.

Kathy Mattea's "Coal."

Destroyer's "Trouble in Dreams."

The Rhymefest-Mark Ronson mixtape/Michael Jackson tribute.

Del the Funky Homosapien's "Eleventh Hour."

Thao Nguyen's "We Brave Bee Stings and All."

Patty Larkin's "Watch the Sky."

Sony Legacy's reissue of Dennis Wilson's "Pacific Ocean Blue," with a full second disc of extras from the scrapped "Bambu" sessions.

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PU: The judges got it wrong, the Keith Richards interview deserved a Pulitzer. Who do I contact to demand a recount?

J. Freedom du Lac: Hold your outrage, mom. The interview isn't eligible until next year's Pulitzers ... at which point it will be rightly ignored.

Asking Keith weird questions about fuzzy slippers doesn't (and shouldn't) win awards. Though I'm proud to say that the idea for that particular question came from the great Ann Hornaday, my colleague and office neighbor who was a Pulitzer finalist in the criticism category this year. Go Ann!

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Fairfax, Va.: Gil Scott-Heron is coming to the 9:30 Club. See you there?!

J. Freedom du Lac: April 19? Maybe.

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The Inevitable Bruce Springsteen Comment/Question: JFree, how about the Orioles? Things couldn't be more exciting these days at Camden Yards if Bruce Springsteen were in concert!

(Just wanted to get it out of the way early on..)

J. Freedom du Lac: I'm having a hard time getting excited about the Orioles. Nothing against them and their first-place team, but their orange and black color scheme is realllly similar to San Francisco's. And as a long-suffering Giants fan who is suffering more than ever thanks to Brian Sabean's idiocy, well ... I have a negative visceral reaction right now to baseball teams wearing those colors.

Plus, I don't like that damn John Denver song.

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Pimlico: Jack Johnson? Stone Temple Pilots? And I will want to go to this festival because ______?

J. Freedom du Lac: Because being outside in Baltimore in early August is a good weight-loss plan?

Look, I think it's just silly at this point to write off the festival. Seth and Co. have released the names of, what, five acts? Three dozen (or so) more to come. Yes, they're the biggest names on the bill, but the undercard is often the most interesting part of a festival lineup, anyway.

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Baltimore, Md.: How music publishing works today: Re your response to the poster asking about Rick Rubin, I know that Nashville still has publishing companies where writers have staff contracts and sit in rooms trying to turn out hits for Sugarland and Kenny Chesney, but does the pop music world still work that way? Is there a modern day equivalent of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin era Brill Building? Thanks.

J. Freedom du Lac: That's absolutely how Nashville works. Mainstream Nashville, anyway. Not the cool and interesting side of the town where Eric Brace and a bunch of other compelling artists live.

There's still a system in the pop world, but there's no single center of the songwriting universe a la Brill Building. Now, you just have a bunch of freelancers writing the hits. Kara DioGuardi, the Underdogs, Sean Garrett, Linda Perry, etc.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think of the group Creedence Clearwater Revisited? It has the original bassist and drummer from CCR and 3 unknown musicians, one of whom sings, and they do all Creedence songs. It doesn't seem right to me to use a name that similar to the original group when John Fogerty wrote all the original songs (except for their mediocre last album), sang, and played all the lead and solo instruments.

J. Freedom du Lac: I've never understood how you could remove Fogerty's voice and that corkscrew guitar and still call it CCR, even if the "R" now stands for something else. Course, I once wrote as much in a Sacto Bee review of Fogerty's solo show at the Fillmore and wound up getting an angry letter to the editor from Stu Cook. I can't remember what his argument was, but it was definitely bogus.

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Washington, D.C.: Hatin' on orange and black: Read a great quote the other day from the era when baseball was really baseball. Once, speaking of their interborough rival, Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers said of the New York Giants, "We hate orange and black so much, we don't even celebrate Halloween."

J. Freedom du Lac: Speaking of Halloween, I think Giants fans should start wearing masks to the games at [Insert Telcom Company Name Here] Park. (Since this is supposed to be a music chat, I'll suggest some of those Slipknot masks.)

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: You got to switch out your whatever Name X does part of your headline.

Unless we're going to talk about eating cheetos, which is all Britney does these days.

J. Freedom du Lac: Hey, she's acting now, too. Trying to kick-start her career. As opposed to trying to kick in a photog's SUV window. (Or was she trying to break it with an umbrella? Can't quite remember.)

Will change it next week. Nominations?

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Washington, D.C.: What does bacchanalia mean? It's used in the Virgin Festival lineup story. As Shaun Ryder would say, if you're going to use long words like these, you'd better start explaining what they mean.

J. Freedom du Lac: What it really means is that I'm big on word recycling. I think I've used that silly little "rock bacchanalia" description in just about every VMoFest story since the first festival was announced in 2006. It's the Official Word of Virgin Festival.

From Webster's:

1. (Myth.) A feast or an orgy in honor of Bacchus. 2. Hence: A drunken feast, drunken reveler.

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Scooooore: I have tickets to the REM/MM/TN concert. Woooot. New CD is great (big fan of Hollow Man). On a serious note. I am in love with Zooey Deschenel's voice--I listened to an NPR free listen of her cd with M.Ward. Fab-ulous.

J. Freedom du Lac: Zooey has a loverly voice, doesn't she? As much as I like Him and his instrumental work, She is definitely the best part of She and Him.

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RE: Creedence Clearwater Revisited: I was at Best Buy and saw a Best of Creedence Clearwater Revisited CD stuck in among the regular CCR records. I sure hope no one bought that record.

J. Freedom du Lac: Love this Amazon.com user review: "Let's face it. Creedence Clearwater Revisited may very well be the greatest accident of rock music. When Stu and Doug started this project in 1995 they only intended to play at private parties. Over 10 years later, they're going strong with 100 concerts a year all over the world. With that said, this CD is a rip off."

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Miami, Fla.: I just got engaged and have been tasked with choosing the song for our first dance as newlyweds. Nothing against Sir Elton or Ms. James, but I have a reputation to maintain. Any suggestions?

J. Freedom du Lac: You're seriously asking me to pick your wedding song for you?

I'm voting for John Prine and Iris DeMent's "In Spite of Ourselves," which is flat-out brilliant. L Freedom and I almost used it but we ultimately wussed out. (Featured it prominently on our "Big Door Prize" album, though.)

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Salt Lake City, Utah: Were you not able to get Bob Lefsetz to join us for a chat? He seems like a real hoot.

J. Freedom du Lac: We'd rack up too many FCC fines. Lefsetz can't [expletive] help himself! When he did the Concert Industry Consortium session in LA, he dropped about 10 F-bombs in the first three minutes.

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re: Whatever it is that X does....: Nomination: will.i.am

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, we can.

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Wedding song: "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground. Good for weddings, sporting events and even children's parties.

J. Freedom du Lac: And Lawrence Welk!

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Nominations: ... whatever it is that Daughtry does.

Because what they do doesn't really qualify as "music" or "rock," but still would probably end up here anyway.

I mean, we can laugh at Nickelback, and then someone will stick up for them, but surely all can agree that Daughtry is at best a second- (or third-?) rate Nickelback.

J. Freedom du Lac: And yet, strangely enough, that show they performed at the 9:30 last May just about set the record for fastest sellouts in the club's history. Go figure.

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If not Prine and Dement....: then what did you and the loverly Ms. J.Free use as your wedding song?

C'mon, you can't tease us like that without a payday; plus, your music cred is on the line. Fess up.

J. Freedom du Lac: That's between me, L Free and our friends and family who were there that day. (Well, them and the party-crasher who invited herself as our officiant's date.)

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Nomination for Name X in Headline: I think the Jonas Brothers would be great, but you'd probably have to enter the witness protection program if you did.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yeah, I'd prefer that the JoBromance crowd continue to harass Allison Stewart instead of me. There's a reason I avoided this assigment, you know.

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Intro Nominations: paramore. because i hate them and don't understand the lurve.

(hey, it was either them or The Starland Vocal Band)

J. Freedom du Lac: So who would you rather see at VMoFest: Paramore or the SVB?

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Well, them and the party-crasher who invited herself as our officiant's date.: I can one-up you on this. My officiant had 2 dates. He did tell me ahead of time that they were a "threesome" and had to be invited together. It did cause some talk amongst the in-laws, which was great.

J. Freedom du Lac: You're totally making this up.

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Nomination for Name X in Headline: I've written before on the subject of the intro blurb and I repeat that the whole thing needs to be changed. It just ain't funny, pal.

J. Freedom du Lac: Remember, humor is objective. It's funny if Weingarten says it is. Until he's ruled on this, I refuse to accept your take.

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Daughtry vs. Nickleback: Sigh,

Not-so-age old question huh? I hate Nickleback, but loved Chris Daughtry on Idol. Was very excited to hear his cd, and then winced when it came over the radio--but I'd still listen to them over Nickleback any day.

So yes, despite the crappiness Daughtry still has a special place in my ipod.

J. Freedom du Lac: So you listen to Daughtry because ... they're the lesser and more atonal of two post-grunge evils? Or because their music brings you back to the salad days of early 2006, when Chris Daughtry himself could be seen doing the growly-squatty thing Tuesdays and Wednesdays on Fox? I don't get it.

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Chinatown: Since you seem to be entertaining baseball related questions, how 'bout them Mets and their new 7th inning stretch song?

J. Freedom du Lac: You can hear the music at Shea? I always thought the jets taking off from LaGuardia drowned out the music there.

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Re: CCRevisited: I just love how Eliot Easton had so much fun with Creedence Clearwater Revisited that he decided to reform the Cars without Ric Ocasek or the dead one or the drummer.

J. Freedom du Lac: Actually, he's left the Cars and joined the Temptations. Do the Tempts still have any original members left?

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Falls Church, Va.: I'm a little white girl who loves Kanye West. I "sing" along in the car, but am concerned about what I'm supposed to do at his show in May.

Do people "sing" along to rap artists? What am I supposed to do when he says words that white people aren't supposed to say?

J. Freedom du Lac: It's easy to self-censor while singing or rapping along. Just listen to the singers and rappers themselves when they perform on TV or the radio. You'll pick up a whole new vocab. No "ish"!

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how great is it...: that i'm going through my old stereolab discography, playing "got it/need it", while you all are discussing the jonas brothers, paramore and daughtry?

signed,

i'm not a music snob, really, i'm not

J. Freedom du Lac: Almost as great as the fact that "Sixteen Blue" just came on. Rhino is reissuing those Replacements albums from their Twin/Tone days. Some of those songs are really, really, really good.

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Daughtry: Hey, I do the growly-squatty thing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays too, but it's because of the Mexican food I had on Monday...

J. Freedom du Lac: It takes you two days? You need more fiber in your life.

You should also stop eating Mexican food in D.C. It's not very good vis-a-vis the stuff you'll find in California and Texas. Hell, even the food at Taqueria Chilangos in Kenner, LA, is better than the Mexican food here. (Worth investigating, by the way, if you're in NOLA for Jazz Fest and are tired of eating at Cochon, which is truly, truly great.)

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First dance at the wedding: I vote for "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"

J. Freedom du Lac: Or, Digital Underground's "Tie the Knot."

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Asbury Park, N.J.: JFDL -

Over the weekend at the Stone Pony, I saw the new rockumentary "A Good Life - The Joe Grushecky Story".

One of the things I carried away from it was renewed respect for the Grusheckys and John Eddies and Willie Niles and Freedie Johnstons and Steve Forberts of the musical landscape. They're rock and roller lifers who keep grinding on.

Look at it this way, REM just put out their latest slop. They haven't made a significant album in a decade. Yet, they're being treated like they've reinvented the art form.

On the other hand, Grushecky and his guys piled into two vans, left Pittsburgh at 4 a.m., and drove like maniacs so they could make to Asbury Park by 1 p.m. to attend the screening with about 40 fans, played a packed gig later that night, and then drove home to wake up and go to work on Monday.

So, who's more noble?

J. Freedom du Lac: Is Grushecky more noble? I dunno. He's great, but isn't he a a rock 'n' roll hobbyist who doesn't do this full-time? Works with kids or something when he's not gigging ... and writing with Springsteen. Is it more or less noble that he hasn't devoted himself full time to the craft? I don't have the answer. I guess I should see the documentary.

By the by, Bill Wyman has a great, great post on his Hitsville blog re Rolling Stone's recent R.E.M. album reviews. Very much worth reading, as Bill's musings generally are.

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Re: Digital Underground weddings: I once got married in a Burger King bathroom

J. Freedom du Lac: Shock G was brilliant.

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Elkridge, Md.: Speaking of Weingarten, is he completely insufferable this week since he bagged a Pulitzer?

Had to chuckle at the video of Len Downie announcing the winners to the packed newsroom. "For investigative reporting, Anne Hull(APPLAUSE)" ... "for his finance columns, Steve Pearlstein(APPLAUSE/WHISTLES)" ... "for humor, Gene Weingarten(AWKWARD SILENCE/CRICKETS CHIRPING).."

J. Freedom du Lac: Weingarten's newsroom speech yesterday was almost as good as the Joshua Bell story that won the Pulitzer. He brought the house down. We are all surfing the wake of Gene's genius. Or something.

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Bill Wyman Blog: Dang, that is a great blog post. I liked the other albums, but am quick to recognize that they weren't commercially great (or even anywhere close to the greatness of Monster or Fables of the Reconstruction or Out of Time.)

Accelerate on the other hand is different (I swear, believe in me!)

J. Freedom du Lac: Wyman also had one of the better takes on David Simon and newspapering when "Wire"-mania was in full effect earlier this year.
"Monster" is R.E.M.'s most underappreciated great album.

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Re: the Rolling Stone REM Blog Item: Oh -- Bill Wyman, the former arts editor of NPR and Salon.com, not Bill Wyman, the former Rolling Stone.

I haven't been this disappointed since I found out there were 2 Robert Palmers...

J. Freedom du Lac: Sure, but the critic Bill Wyman is the more productive and interesting of the two Bill Wymans. Has been for years, really.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: It seems to me like REM fans always grade the latest album on a curve and reassess later. Like when the Star Wars fans kept insisting that The Phantom Menace was NOT a crushing disappointment. They protest too much is what I'm saying.

J. Freedom du Lac: I think Producer-Blogger-NCAA Tourney Pool Winner David summed it quite nicely in his "Accelerate" review last week:

It's a familiar story. After a long string of successes, beloved band loses its way, along with critical acclaim and hordes of fans. Soul-searching ensues. A back-to-the-basics collection of straightforward rock-and-roll follows and is hailed as a "return to form," "best album in a decade" or some other phrase that fits comfortably on a sticker on the upper right corner of a CD case.

And so it goes with "Accelerate," the 14th studio album by R.E.M., which is, to be sure, the band's best effort in more than a decade. That says plenty about the three middling, lackluster albums that followed 1996's "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" and set the bar so painfully low for the best American band of the 1980s. But there's more to offer here than backhanded compliments.

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Don't leave me hanging: J. Free: I want more on James McMurtry, one of the most underappreciated artists around and one of the most consistently great songwriters I know of. Also with a Virginia connection, growing up in Loudoun County. He came up with one of my favorite lines ever, from a song called "Where's Johnny:" "The girls loved Johnny more than anyone, except maybe Elton John."

J. Freedom du Lac: Not only a great songwriter, but a pretty wicked guitarist, too.

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Washington, D.C.: Weingarten referred to Tim Page as the "former" music critic at the Post. I thought he was only on a book leave. Has he gone? I would be sad to see him go.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yep. Tim is teaching arts journalism at the University of Southern California. He's officially on leave, but it looks like he's gone for good: He announced this morning that he's leaving the paper. (This has been reported on the internets, I'm told.) Definitely a loss, but we're in very, very good hands with Anne Midgette sitting in the classical chair.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Joe Grushecky works with special needs kids in one of the worst neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. In his words, he provides some company for his students until they go to jail.

J. Freedom du Lac: Thanks for this. I need to see the documentary.

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Washington, D.C.: Another great McMurtry line:

You know you had that boyfriend, with the Chevrolet. He never met Will Rogers, I'd be willing to say.

J. Freedom du Lac: He can froth a little bit, too. The guy knows from protest songs.

He'll be at the Birchmere on June 6. Get it in your calendar.

Thanks for stopping by today, folks. See you further on (up the road).

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