Gotta Keep It New to Keep It True


The Ghost of Rock & Roll Past

“I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

In 1974 music critic Jon Landau made this bold claim.

Well, I’m no Jon Landau nor have I been visited by any Dickensian Ghosts but I do believe I’ve just seen rock and roll past…and it resembles the Yeti…in white.

Matthew E. White

The missing link between Stevie Wonder ’72 & James Murphy ’05

Here’s the song that blew me away when I heard it a few months ago:

Big Love

Part soul man, part funk meister, this anti-hipster from Richmond, Virginia knows how to pay tribute to the greats without ripping them off.

And if White resembles any part of the future of rock and roll circa 2015, I’m in.


For about 10 years between 1997 and 2007 there was no activity I spent more time on than reading about music. But before we go there, a brief history…

I came into pop music consciousness in late 1980, early 1981. I clearly remember listening to John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over climb up Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 shortly after his death.

Kasey Casem

One too many “long distance dedications”

If the warmhearted DJ was also a big part of your youthful weekends, you might enjoy Casey’s little studio meltdown (warning – contains explicit language):  Meltdown

Eventually my love for the iconic countdown waned, but not for music.

I spent countless hours practicing my fall-away jumper to the sounds of the Thompson Twins and The Doors blaring out my bedroom window.

In defense of my 14 year-old self, I recently heard the Twins’ If You Were Here and was amazed by how good it was…but that could very well be a case of nostalgia clouding judgement. Any thoughts?

Music was front and center of everything I did through high school, college and beyond.


What changed around 1997 was the reading part.

Sure I’d picked up the occasional Rolling Stone in high school but it wasn’t until living in Far East Asia in the mid-90’s that I learned to appreciate the written word…

Finding an English book or magazine in Inchon, South Korea in 1995 was like finding high-speed internet in Siberia during a snowstorm.

However it was in a tiny shop close to the DMZ where I picked up an indie sampler CD featuring two artists that would change my life forever.

Jeff Buckley’s Grace would go on to become one of my favorite songs of all-time and Wonderwall, well, more on Oasis later.

A few years after my stint on the Korean border, I landed in the more pop-friendly city of Matsuyama, Japan.

Matsuyama even offered a full-fledged Tower Records where I made regular purchases of CD’s and magazines. The year was 1997 and the Union Jack was everywhere.

Brit Pop

Faster than a cannonball…

It was at this time I picked up a copy of The Beatles newly released Anthology 3 “warts and all” collection.

It should be noted that in addition to the comprehensive BBC Anthology series, the Gallaghers had played a big role in the renewed interest in the lads.

So while buried in Brit Pop at its drug-addled peak I was discovering late-period Beatles, beards and all.

The Beatles

Lennon’s suit look familiar?

It also happened to be the first time in my life I was living alone. I cooked, read, even exercised in the confines of my tiny flat, making for an intense listening experience – every word, every note, every joke intimate.

Here’s one from Paul Ramon, Winston Legthigh and mates circa ’68:  Los Paranoias

The listening had suddenly shifted from dorm room passive to Cracker Jacks box active – a familiar setting from my childhood.

A few years later I’d be living in a new country, no longer alone but with the reading part at full throttle. There was even a point at the dawn of the new millennium when I found myself subscribing to three music magazines at once.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot of work getting done at the breakfast table. But after years of intense listening I was starting to connect some big dots…

“So before the Stones, Ronnie Wood was with The Faces…and before he was a Face, he and Rod Stewart played with The Jeff Beck Group…and what about that first band that turned into the Faces, those little guys? They were damn good”…and so it went.

Incidentally, the music I love most today was crystallized through all that digging.

As long as I’m alive I’m convinced that pop music will never be better than The Beatles between ’65 – ’69, The Rolling Stones from ’68 to ’72 and a handful of other greats during those same years – many of whom you just might hear in White’s humble musical output.


But rather than take my word for it, let’s play a little game.

It’s called “The Matthew E. White Tribute Challenge”.

Here’s how to play:

  1. Watch video, listen to full song (eyes closed if helpful).
  2. Which artist and song does White’s track remind you of (more than 1 answer possible)?
  3. On a scale from 1 – 10, how do you rate his song/tribute?

Please share your answers with me in the comments below and I’ll let you know if they match mine. Happy listening!

A Day in the Life

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

As a protest against the Vietnam War, John Lennon sang these words in 1971.  9 years later he’d be dead.

Although it felt far removed from me at the time, I distinctly remember the fateful news of his death on December 8th, 1980.  However, growing up I’d always been partial to Paul’s soothing vocals and soft features.

In fact, it wasn’t until listening to “Mother” from his first post-Beatles solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 30+ years after it had been written that I made a real connection to him and his music.

I was completely flattened by the sheer rawness and power of his words as he screamed them out.  The unfiltered pain and honesty.  I still am.

To my mind there has never been a better example of a figure in pop culture with the courage to do and say what he believed was right – protesting a war or professing his love for the woman people blamed for the break-up of the beloved Beatles.

Written 5 years after he’d laid down his guitar and decided to live deliberately after most of his life in the spotlight, nothing illustrates this better than his lyrics to “Watching the Wheels” released shortly before his death:

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round

I really love to watch them roll

No longer riding on the merry-go-round

I just had to let it go

To honor John Lennon on the anniversary of his death, I’d like to share “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” with you.  Take a few minutes to listen and see if you can feel the power and emotion in his words and music.

john lennon

A very Merry Christmas and Happy 2015 to you and your loved ones!


The Dark Knight Rises

Lanegan cartoon

Fact #1

On April 5th, 1994 Rock ‘N Roll lost a brilliant mind when Kurt Cobain departed for the celestial Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame.

Fact #2

As with John Lennon, Bob Marley or any of the gone-too-soon Hall of Famers, there’s no guarantee he or Nirvana would still be creating the quality music heard at the end of the 20th century.  “Elvis died the day he went into the army” was reportedly how Lennon greeted news of the king’s death.  One could argue he himself experienced a similar creative death as seen in his post-Primal Screaming output.

Fact #3

With 2012’s Blues Funeral, one of St. Kurt’s Seattle peers is still making great music.  In fact, Mark Lanegan, known for his dark demeanor and gravely voice, has never been in finer form:  review, incl. listening samples:

Blues Funeral Poster

In Rock ‘N Roll’s short 60 year history, there have been great artists (Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer) who have re-conjured their magic at the end of their careers.  There have also been artists who create such amazing music in their youth that there’s sadly nowhere to go but down (Stevie Wonder, David Bowie).  Then there’s the rare artist whose second or thrid act, after ill-advised dabbles with 80’s technology or worse, is just as impressive as their first.  But it is an ever rarer artist like Lanegan who can sustain excellence without the embarrassing dip.  Even Dylan spent a long spell in the Rock ‘N Roll desert (’76-’88) before launching his never-ending Never Ending Tour (’89 – present).

Jamming in moldy garages with future band mates and doing lots of drugs in the dreary Pacific Northwest, Mark Lanegan first came on the scene in the mid-80’s.  Exercising my Roman Catholic right to criticize the Vatican, I grew up a few hours away from Grunge Ground Zero.

Despite what I consider the best song on the grunge-defining Singles soundtrack, the Screaming Trees never managed to break it big like Nirvana or other Seattle brethren.  Watch them perform the aforementioned “Nearly Lost You” on Letterman in 1992:

Another watershed moment for grunge, Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged performance from ‘93 is considered by many to be their swan song – a flash of brilliance as the ship was beginning to go down fast.  The powerful cover that closes this acoustic tour de force is “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”.

On his first solo album from 1990, “The Winding Sheet”, Lanegan not only performs this emotive blues classic by Leadbelly, Cobain plays guitar and sings backing vocals on it.  Without a doubt, Rock ‘N Roll was never the same after a few short years of Nirvana’s original ideas.  However, this was not one of them.

Cobain and Lanegan

Here are three reasons I believe Mark Lanegan continues to perform at the top of his game:

  • Desire to collaborate with great artists – Kurt Cobain (, PJ Harvey (, and Isobel Campbell to name just a few.
  • Willingness to play second fiddle – 5 years as a guest vocalist with the Queens of the Stone Age (no apparent “Lead Singer Syndrome” – see Keith Richards’ Life for definition).
  • Singular vision – singing the blues at the height of hair metal, not just in the blues-friendly post White Stripes world.

Other than Jack White’s solid solo project Blunderbuss, I haven’t heard much new music from 2012.  But I do find it interesting at a time when the garage-blues Black Keys are winning multiple Grammys and the blues artist du jour, Gary Clarke Jr. have taken the genre mainstream, Lanegan veers left and pulls this beautiful rabbit out of his hat.

The Quietus describes the alchemy:

Blues Funeral sees Lanegan stirring together electronica, processed beats, spaghetti westerns, southern 60s soul, folk and all-out sonic onslaughts to blend his most satisfying and heady brew to date…it is the sound of an artist freeing himself of expectation and convention, and in the process has delivered the finest work in Lanegan’s already impressive canon.

Mark Lanegan is clearly an artist “transcending his influences to create a new template of his own” – clearly a key skill for steering clear of Rock ‘N Roll Purgatory.

Let me know who you think belongs in the short list with Lanegan.  Or any other any other Rock ‘N Roll issues you wish to healthily debate.  Looking forward to your comments!

Coming soon:

Anderson: Portrait of a Serial Filmmaker:  an uncanny look at Generation X’s  two greatest storytellers.