Tag Archives: my morning jacket

The ‘Ills’ of borrowing and stealing

23 May

“Good writers borrow; great writers steal” is a paraphrased adage from T.S. Eliot that comes up regularly in conversations about literature and other artistic endeavors. With good reason. With millions of books and albums already released and thousands more saturating the shelves every week, it’s become nearly impossible to be totally original, as there are a limited number of words to be written and notes to be played. At this point, imitation is far more common than innovation.

For my money, the greatest works of contemporary art are the ones that manage to imitate and innovate. The mixtape that’s been on constant repeat on my iTunes for the past week is one that seems rather innovative in the way that it imitates. Detroit MC Elzhi’s Elmatic is probably my favorite rap release of 2011, even though it’s a tribute to a record that came out 17 years ago – Nas’ Illmatic, held up by many critics as the holy grail of hip hop. The concept of a “tribute” album as executed by Elzhi is new to me. Like Illmatic, Elmatic features the same 10 sets of beats, except the backing tracks are performed in a different sequence by a live backing band (Will Sessions), a group with the jazz chops to improvise through different sections of the original songs. The instrumentation is a genius move that makes Elmatic sound far fresher than you would expect.

The other aspect that differentiates the mixtape from its inspiration is that while Elzhi keeps the chorus hooks from Illmatic, his verses on Elmatic are completely different, aside from a few subtle callbacks that remind listeners of the rapper’s fondness for the source material. And while Elzhi might not quite be on the same level as Nas as a lyricist, he comes damn close. Because Elzhi’s rhymes are good enough to be alternate (not meaning lesser) takes from Illmatic, the project pops. It’s like getting a second chance to listen to Illmatic for the first time. Considering it’s available on the internet free of charge, it’s quite the gift for any fan of hip hop.

Elzhi – “The World Is Yours”

Beyond being a fantastic listening experience, Elzhi deserves props for illustrating a new way for artists to repurpose their influences. Because it’s a tribute mixtape, the former member of Slum Village isn’t stealing from his idol, as evidenced by the fact that Illmatic producer Pete Rock offers his effusive praise of the project at the beginning of the final track on Elmatic. But in the spirit of Eliot’s quote, he’s not exactly borrowing. He’s stealing with permission, a paradox if there ever was one.

Artistic plagiarism has always been a literary issue (and not in the sense of teenagers copying term papers from the Internet), one that received some real attention with the 2010 release of David Shields’ Reality Hunger, a book written in the form of fragments, many of which are unattributed quotations from other sources. I haven’t read the book (hopefully this will change soon), but it seems to be in a similar vein as Elmatic, considering there is original material from Shields combined with previously published work.

Even though Reality Hunger created a buzz, writers haven’t been as innovative with the concept of reuse as musicians have. It’s unclear what effect Shields will have on the next literary movement, but perhaps someone will take a page from the artists who have made covers, mash-ups, and tributes commercially viable. Allow me to indulge by sharing a few of my favorites:

“Tyrone” – My Morning Jacket [Erykah Badu cover]

“Killa Bees Live” – The Wudos Band [Wu-Tang Clan / The Budos Band mash-up]

For now, I’ll stick to what I’m best at, making pithy points and posting YouTube videos, and leave the in-depth analysis of the issue to real scholars, like Motherless Brooklyn author and all-around great guy Jonathan Lethem. For the writers who visit this blog, Lethem’s essay “The Ecstasy of Influence” is a must-read. For those who want more hip hop, I offer you Elzhi’s take on another Illmatic classic that not only pays homage to Nas, but also to The Gap Band in its extended coda.

Elzhi – “Life’s A Bitch”

The Gap Band – “Yearning For Your Love”

Fresh rhymes mixed with a legendary hip hop hook and an R&B nugget from the early 80s. T.S. Eliot would be proud.


This one goes out to: the Grammy nomination panel

4 Dec


Really? Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” for Song of the Year? Five musicians who I’ve never heard a single song from for Best New Artist? Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance? Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance? The Eagles of Wal-Mart for anything? The list goes on and on…

While there are some respectable names on the list (M.I.A., Radiohead, Daft Punk, Hot Chip, Kings of Leon, Beck, My Morning Jacket), it’s obvious that someone needs to reboot the whole damn institution. Maybe I’m being too harsh though. At least it appears (as of today) that they’ve actually selected artists who sing their own songs.

What planet do these tone deaf blowhards come from where Jethro Tull is considered metal? This one goes out to you, Grammy nomination panel…courtesy of a fellow extra-terrestrial, Dr. Octagon…

Bonnaroo 2008 – Day Two

18 Jun

The rumor is that there’s lots of nakedness at Bonnaroo. I only saw a few isolated cases, though. There was one couple who ended up posing for an unholy number of photos with people who love nudity but like keeping their clothes on. I don’t remember what the girl painted herself up as (I was distracted by her breasts, obviously), but the guy painted his junk to look like the trunk of an elephant. Upon seeing this man’s decorative wang, my friend suggested that if he even developed the gumption to expose himself to 80,000 people, he would paint his region up like the ass end of a tiger. 

It was such a fine suggestion that it forced me to contemplate what could possibly be better. After hours of deliberating, I’ve come up with the perfect costume for nudists. Just hear me out. The guy should paint his parts to resemble a stingray, while the girl decorates her pubic area to look like Steve Irwin’s face.

Brilliant, right? Now that I’ve offended everyone, let’s talk about Day Two….

Day Two – Friday, June 13

My moment of euphoria: “Run Thru” by My Morning Jacket. For me, this was the highlight of the Louisville band’s three-hour long set. My buddy and I had finally worked our way up to the front row, only to go absolutely ballistic once the jam started up. Fuck the rain that had soaked us for the past few hours. We didn’t care about anything. Sure, it could have been the booze, but I’m pretty sure the music was even more intoxicating.

MMJ’s new album certainly isn’t my favorite from their catalogue. But, man, do the songs hold up well in concert. “Highly Suspicious” was simply blissful – the epitome of the cheekiness that makes the band truly unique. Look at Jim James’ hat in the above picture. Unlike all those lead singers you know who cash their paychecks righting depressing songs, it’s obvious that the mastermind behind MMJ truly loves being on stage.

That’s why the band sprinkled its setlist with R&B covers and brought out comedian Zach Galifianakis for last call. Seeing Galifianakis prancing around in a dress while reading lyrics off a sheet was simply too much. I really don’t know how anybody could dislike MMJ after watching them perform. They rock hard and have a blast doing it. What else is there?

My other moment of euphoria: Yep, Friday was fucking phenomenal. Nearly seven hours before MMJ blew the roof off my mind, The Raconteurs delivered an incredible set on the main stage. Although it sounds blasphemous, I’m convinced that Jack White should scrap his two-piece band and stick to his four-man side project.

Although White justified his superstardom with his showmanship, I was pleasantly surprised by Brendan Benson, the group’s other singer-guitarist. His songs were superb. Because the tones of their voices are similar, I always assumed that White handled the majority of the vocals. But this isn’t the case. “Consolers of the Lonely” and “Rich Kid Blues” demonstrated just how valuable Benson is to the group.

Of course, they forced me to miss !!!: As much as I hate exclamation points, I was really looking forward to acquainting myself with !!! at Bonnaroo. But their performance started 30 minutes before The Raconteurs, so I only ended up catching the first two songs of their set. Even though I didn’t see much – I walked away feeling like I just saw something that I’d absolutely never seen anything before.

They really knew how to work the crowd, to the point that they were borderline hypnotic. If Nic Offer asked everyone to gouge their right eyeball, there would have been more people walking around with eye patches the following day than at a pirate convention. Missing them because of a scheduling conflict was one of the few musical minuses of the weekend.

Minus the Bear was a big plus: Being somewhat familiar with the Seattle math-rock outfit, I though there was a chance that they might be a real snooze live. But they sounded like a cross between Death Cab, Bloc Party and Incubus. My friend ended up tabbing these guys his favorites out of the bands he knew nothing about going in. I’d go see these guys again in half a heartbeat.

Sonic Stage shakedown: I saw The Fiery Furnaces twice, albeit briefly in both cases. I really enjoyed their 30-minute performance on the more intimate Sonic Stage. though. All the pretentious noise wankery from their studio albums was missing. With brother shredding and sister singing, I found the Furnaces quite endearing. I think that “Straight Street” is one of my new favorite songs.

Quick hits: Umphrey’s McGee was disposable, and Rilo Kiley was bland. Chris Rock’s standup was top-notch. Glad to see all those crappy movies he’s been in haven’t ruined his biting sense of humor. I sat in my tent during Metallica, who sealed their fate when Lars introduced Chris Rock and explained to the audience that “hell was about to break loose at Bonnaroo.” If you’ve been reading, you know how I feel about hell.

So, what sucked besides Rilo Kiley?: Well, our campground was positioned closest to the main stage at Centeroo, which we assumed would be a good thing. Of course, nearly every time we tried to use the What Stage entrance, it wasn’t open, which extended our walk from half a mile to a mile and a half. This really took a toll on us Friday night when we decided to leave during Metallica’s set. All the good chi we built up during The Raconteurs and Chris Rock evaporated instantly when we realized that Bonnaroo event organizers were trying to trap us inside Centeroo.

Honestly, we tried about five different exits marked on the grounds map, and none of them were open. We ended up sneaking through a VIP opening after 40 minutes of trekking around with no success at all. Once we finally got back to the tent, everyone was pissed off, and thoughts of skipping MMJ crept into our heads.

If that’s not the work of the devil, I don’t know what is.

Best of Bonnaroo – Part II

4 Jun

Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk”
11:30 p.m. to 12:45 a.m. Thursday – This Tent

My Morning Jacket – “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part II”
midnight to 3 a.m. Friday (technically Saturday) – Which Stage

Iron and Wine – “Lion’s Mane”
6:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday – This Tent

Death Cab For Cutie – “Cath…”
7 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday – Which Stage