Annie Zaleski

The Power of Neil Young’s 'Ohio' in 2018: Why the Kent State Protest Anthem Remains So Relevant

At last weekend's Newport Folk Festival, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit's Friday set featured a marquee special guest: David Crosby, who performed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Ohio" with the band. Isbell has covered the song before in concert multiple times, but this version unsurprisingly had extra grit and exuded a grimmer tone that was mesmerizing. Isbell and Crosby's harmonies were weary but wise, and the performance's multiple-electric guitar approach added tenacity. It didn't feel like a song nearing 50 years old; it was vital contemporary commentary.

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Everyone Loves Paul McCartney: The Secrets of One Beatle’s Eternal Appeal

It was inevitable that Paul McCartney's appearance on James Corden's "Carpool Karaoke" would make a splash. The musician's not just famous: He's a Beatle, at a level of famous that's almost hard to comprehend, it's in such rarefied air. But the extended episode quickly became a viral hit: The video is at 91 million views (and counting) on Facebook, with another 21 million YouTube views piled on for good measure.

Depending on when you discovered the Beatles (or Paul), this answer will certainly differ. Original Beatles fans from the '60s have one view of what he represents; younger folks who came around to the band (or Wings and solo McCartney) in the last few decades have another take. Where these perspectives overlap is simple: The act of loving the music of the Beatles — and, by extension, McCartney's songwriting — transcends the passage of time.

Bands come and go, but the Beatles are one of the few acts to consistently resonate with younger listeners. Their albums are global musical folklore, totems passed from generation to generation that accumulate more layers of mystique with each passing year. In a fractured world — pop culture and otherwise — the Beatles offer rare common ground. Today's kids generally can't rebel against their parents and listen to the Beatles; chances are, mom and dad are the ones that introduced their children to the band.

I often like to say there's a Beatles album for every occasion or age. But in retrospect, it's fascinating to track how the band's career ran in parallel with such profound global changes  — civil and women's rights, war protests, economic shifts. Through it all, the Beatles evolved too, while still tapping into our collective, primal optimism. Today, the band's music provides a reminder of who we were, what we became, and what we've both lost and gained. As Behar put it in his piece, "This video wasn’t just about this video: It was about parents that are no longer with us. It was about our own kids, now grown and moved on from our nurturing nests."

For many music fans, the last few years have taught us that our heroes are fallible and that loss is inevitable. Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty — these seemingly untouchable figures died suddenly and prematurely, well before their artistic lives felt complete. This phenomenon only magnifies the fragility of the Beatles, a band whose legacy was shaped by jarring, painful tragedies (John Lennon's 1980 murder, George Harrison's passing from cancer in 2001). In between, McCartney also suffered another incalculable blow, the death of his beloved collaborator and wife Linda from breast cancer in 1998.

These losses made McCartney eminently human, especially since he did some of his grieving publicly. There's the 1982 solo song "Here Today," which takes the form of McCartney talking to Lennon; it remains a staple of his live show. A 1984 Playboy interview was even more revealing as he ping-ponged between despair, regret and bewilderment over Lennon's death and offered up one "consoling factor," that things ended on an up note.

"I do feel it was sad that we never actually sat down and straightened our differences out," he said. "But fortunately for me, the last phone conversation I ever had with him was really great, and we didn't have any kind of blowup."

The Beatles' friendships resonated so profoundly because musical icons often feel like family — or are at least larger-than-life representations of our own familial relationships. Bob Dylan's our gruff, distant relative who prefers staying off the grid in the woods whenever possible. Neil Young's the hippie uncle smoking weed outside during holiday visits. Madonna is your cool aunt who taught you how to swear, take no shit from men and find thrift store bargains.

But Paul McCartney is a benevolent grandpa — the one who always keeps ice cream in the freezer for dessert, who's always ready with a riveting personal story or historical anecdote and has lived an impossibly cool, full life. This is the McCartney seen in "Carpool Karaoke": He was sharp as a tack and in good humor, yet also exuded vulnerability. There were white streaks in his sandy hair, and his voice was slightly more weathered than it used to be, like a photograph faded from the sun.

But McCartney's "Carpool Karaoke" appearance wasn't just a nostalgic jaunt: The clip also served as a way to promote two new songs, "I Don’t Know" and "Come On To Me," from a forthcoming solo album, "Egypt Station." Despite plenty of reissues and "new" songs, The Fab Four never had a chance to reunite; their original run remains preserved in amber, an endlessly fascinating example of youthful bravado greased by musical genius.

McCartney, however, has always been restless, driven to create and innovate and challenge himself to keep bringing art and music into existence. As "Carpool Karaoke" demonstrated, his relentless ambition and quest for beauty is admirable — and his continued presence in the world feels like a gift.

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It’s Time to Tear Down the Music Festival Boys Club

Even though much of the country was in a deep freeze during the first week of January, there was at least one ray of sunshine: the 2018 Coachella lineup announcement.

Although this year's crop of acts was polarizing to some — for example, many rock fans grumbled about the lack of bands booked — it's difficult to quibble with Beyoncé and the Weeknd as headliners, and an eclectic undercard headed by St. Vincent, SZA, HAIM, Odesza, Cardi B, David Byrne and Fleet Foxes.

However, in the ensuing days, as more festival lineups rolled out, things started to feel more homogenous — and male-dominated. That's nothing new, of course: The Huffington Post conducted analysis of 10 major music festivals in 2016, and found that just 12 percent of acts booked were solo female performers or groups featuring all women, and 10 percent of groups were of mixed gender. Pitchfork's analysis of 23 2017 festival lineups (which added up to 996 acts) wasn't much better: 14 percent of these acts were female, while 12 percent were groups comprised of male and female (or non-binary) members. The interactive data map of 2017 festival lineups Pitchfork produced underscores just how imbalanced things were.

The lack of festival gender parity has been even more striking in 2018. Of the first 20 announced acts for New York's Governors Ball, which is headlined by Eminem and Jack White, 15 acts are men or male-fronted. Only Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Halsey, Chvrches, Sylvan Esso and Maggie Rogers buck this trend. Alabama's Hangout Festival has three male headliners — Kendrick Lamar, the Killers and the Chainsmokers — and just two women (SZA and Halsey) represented in the next 11 acts.

Things came to a head when Bonnaroo's lineup emerged. Of the acts listed in the first 10 rows of the poster — representing more than 40 performers, including (male) headliners Eminem, Muse and the Killers — there are only seven women-identifying artists or women-led groups listed: Paramore, Dua Lipa, Sheryl Crow, Alison Wonderland, First Aid Kit, Billie Eilish and Tash Sultana. (Several acts within these rows, including Broken Social Scene, Sylvan Esso and Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, do have a mix of genders, however.)

That 2018's festival lineups feel stale and uninspired certainly hasn't escaped notice — although, to be clear, it's a problem with the cumulative booking choices, and not a comment on the quality of any individual acts. Kendrick Lamar is one of the most riveting live performers of today and deserves to be a headliner, while Muse and the Killers have the kind of ambitious execution necessary to close a show.

Still, it's impossible to ignore how obvious it is that festivals are neglecting non-male acts. Earlier this week, several journalists started circulating the Twitter hashtag #letwomenheadline to draw attention to the imbalance. And upon seeing the Jan. 11 lineup reveal for Delaware's Firefly Festival — yet another sausagefest — Halsey tweeted, "Damn guys come onnnnnn. Where the women at. This was one of my favorite festivals I’ve ever played and it’s a shame there’s not more females on the bill. With the exception of (the amazing) SZA, the first like 20 acts on the bill are men. It’s 2018, do better!!!

When major acts playing these festivals are calling them out for a lack of gender diversity, that should be embarrassing enough to spur on changes. But there's good reason to think shame won't be a strong enough impetus, in large part because money talks and many major festivals are economic juggernauts, no matter who's performing. According to Pollstar's Year End Worldwide Festival Grosses chart, Coachella grossed a whopping $114.5 million in 2017, an increase of 21.63 percent over 2016. A 2015 report, meanwhile, found that Insomniac, the promoter behind the EDM-focused Electric Daisy Carnival events, generated $3.2 billion in economic activity in the U.S. from 2010 t0 2014.

What's frustrating is that major festivals are cognizant of gender-related lineup critiques. Chris Sampson, the executive vice president of programming for Superfly (which handles Bonnaroo and Outside Lands) told Huffington Post in 2016 that "we're very aware of the gender imbalance. We try to book the best festival that we can every year. We want the best artists out there, at every level, male or female." In the same piece, Insomniac's founder and CEO, Pasquale Rotella, said, "We don’t book our festivals based on gender; it’s all about good music, but that music needs to make its way to us."

That last aside hints at some of the disconnect in play. In a perfect world, the best artists being heard by the powers that be would represent a diversity of genders and perspectives. However, festivals also reflect mainstream music culture, which has also skewed disproportionately male as of late — particularly in 2017, when pop charts, radio airplay, holiday concerts, and awards nominations had a disheartening lack of women or non-binary artists at the forefront. When gatekeepers elevate male voices, or artistic discourse is dominated by men, it trickles down and permeates all aspects of the music experience.

To be fair, plenty of factors explain the composition of festival lineups. Absent artists might be taking time away from touring to make a record; some acts might prefer to embark on their own tours; others might be on existing tours that just so happen to be routed away from festivals. (Kesha and Macklemore's joint summer trek comes to mind.) And then there are things like business-related factors — such as radius clauses, which prevent acts from playing certain cities for a period of time, or exclusivity agreements -- or financial considerations, such as budgets or guarantees. Booking festivals is a difficult and stressful task; that's not in dispute.

However, it's a cop-out to blame gender disparity on the premise that there just aren't enough women-driven projects available to populate the upper echelons of festival lineups. In fact, 2017 felt like a watershed year for both artistic quality and social change, as Ann Powers pointed out in an NPR Music piece, "Don't Call Me Honey: In 2017, Women Confronted The Deep Roots of Rock's Boys Club":

All over the musical spectrum, from the political punk of Priests to the bedroom Big Star-isms of Waxahatchee, from Lorde's indie-leaning pop to Jay Som's homemade intimacies, from Kesha's glossy boogie to Hurray For the Riff Raff's deep inquiry into roots music, women are the ones taking rock's helm, and often, calling out male oppressors and violators.

Applying this kind of tables-turning to festivals has a tremendous upside. Landing a spot at a coveted festival is akin to a string of gold stars or a seal of approval, as well as a highly visible way for artists to cut through the noise. Ensuring women and non-binary artists are put in position to earn the greatest amount of mainstream exposure raises the bar for everyone.

Of course, highlighting these artists is a delicate balance. After all, veering into pandering tokenism also doesn't help anyone. Moogfest came under fire in December, after former Chairlift leader Caroline Polachek (who now records as CEP) objected to being part of an initial lineup announcement that chose to highlight only "female, transgender, and non-binary innovators."

"This is a gender-mixed festival where certain artists have been marched to the front of the line and paraded out together because they’re female / gnc [gender nonconforming]," Polachek, who wasn't aware in advance of how the billing was being framed, said in a statement. "This speaks not to the artists or their music, but to the politics of the festival and self-congratulatory PR. To do this without permission from the artists on display is exploitative and unprofessional."

With the 2018 festival lineups rolling in, perhaps it's time to stop trying to figure out why lineups are lopsided — and start figuring out what to do in response, whether it's boycotting attendance or coverage, asking performers to use their platform to push for festival gender equality, or working on solutions directly with festivals or bookers. On a grassroots level, fans might choose to support bands that spend summers trekking through clubs, or attend more niche festivals that are doing good work — such as Red Bull Sound Select's "30 Days" city series, the eclectic New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or Pickathon in Oregon.

Year after year, it's exhausting and frustrating to see a lack of improvement in lineup parity -- and to still have a need to crunch numbers, examine gaps and try to figure out why festivals aren't booking more women and non-binary artists. But with the groundswell of people surging to wrest control of power dynamics in workplaces, media and politics, it feels more urgent than ever — if not overdue — to reshape the festival narrative into something marked by equality, not disparity.

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Leonard Cohen Is Gone: The Broken-Hearted Scoundrel and Master of Lament Dies at Home, 'Writing up Until His Last Moments'

In a year marred by unexpected musician deaths, it was still shocking to read the status on Leonard Cohen’s Facebook page early Thursday evening: “It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist Leonard Cohen has passed away. We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.”

He was 82, and had released a well-regarded new album, “You Want It Darker,” just weeks before. “My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records,” son Adam Cohen added in a statement to the CBC. “He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humor.”

The parallels between Cohen and David Bowie — who released a new album, “★,” mere days before his death — are hard to ignore. Unlike Bowie’s death, however, Cohen’s passing wasn’t entirely unexpected. In a lengthy, engrossing October New Yorker profile, he told David Remnick, “I don’t dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I don’t dare do that. I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”

Over the summer, when he found out his onetime muse Marianne Ihlen was dying of cancer, Cohen wrote her a touching letter, with portions of it shared by her friend Jan Christian Mollestad on the CBC: “Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart, and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”

That clearheaded grace in the face of the inevitable also permeated “You Want It Darker,” a record that doubled as an elegant, tenacious chronicle of romantic, religious and personal regrets. “I don’t need a reason for what I became/ I’ve got these excuses, they’re tired and lame,” he drawls on “Leaving the Table,” his voice craggy and solemn. “When I walked away from you, I turned my back on the devil/ Turned my back on the angel too,” he intoned on “On the Level,” a sly sparkle in his voice.

But from his very first album, 1967’s “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” the musician was mourning what he didn’t have and preparing for inevitable disappointments and endings. “So Long, Marianne,” one of his most famous songs, reads as an elegy for his relationship with the real Marianne, despite the fact the pair were ostensibly still together. And “Winter Lady” encourages a “trav’ling lady” to stay overnight but holds no illusion of permanence: “I’m just a station on your way/ I know I’m not your lover.”

The sense that Cohen was always waiting for the other shoe to drop gave his albums a permanently melancholy tone. He stoked those fires with dusky instrumentation full of classic flourishes: flamenco guitar chords, unadorned folk, smoldering jazz, sinewy blues. The Beatles “didn’t seem to be essential to the kind of nourishment that I craved,” Cohen told The New Yorker, which made perfect sense: His music diverged, evolved and mutated separate from rock ‘n’ roll’s DNA, which made even his contemporary-sounding albums feel slightly left of center.

The 1977 Phil Spector-produced “Death of a Ladies’ Man” sounds like a fun house mirror take on the Wall of Sound, one full of free-floating menace and disorientation, while 1988’s “I’m Your Man” strips away any synth-pop frippery to expose utilitarian keyboards and drum machines.

As the latter album proved, Cohen fought back when life pushed him around. “I’m Your Man” kicks off with “First We Take Manhattan,” a steely snarl that promises swift action in the face of adversity, while 1991’s stark song “The Future” is an even sterner warning shot: “And now the wheels of heaven stop/ You feel the devil’s riding crop/ Get ready for the future: It is murder.”

In fact, Cohen himself always thought he deserved redemption, that there was always room for a second chance or one more rendezvous. “Have mercy on me baby/ After all I did confess,” he says on “Anyhow,” a song from his 2012 album “Old Ideas.” “Even though you have to hate me/ Could you hate me less?”

Cohen would probably appreciate that since emotional ambiguity and keeping people guessing delighted him. After his “I am ready to die” quote in The New Yorker predictably caused something of a media firestorm, Cohen demurred while speaking to press on Oct. 13 in Los Angeles.

“I said I was ready to die recently,” Billboard reports that he said. “And I think I was exaggerating. I’ve always been into self-dramatization. I intend to live forever.” At the end of the conversation, he reiterated that he wasn’t planning on going anywhere: “I hope we can do this again. I intend to stick around until 120.” 

Up until this week, that felt entirely possible. His life revolved around constant reinvention and rebirth because instead of giving into darkness, Cohen found the most beauty in forward momentum.

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Leave U2 Alone: Why Did One of Our Best Rock Bands Become So Loathed?

A Facebook friend recently prefaced his casual announcement that he was going to see U2 with a tongue-in-cheek addition: “Here’s a polarizing subject.” Indeed, very quickly, the thread devolved into fans of the band and passionate detractors mildly arguing with each other about the seemingly innocuous statement. This response was entirely predictable: U2 have always been a lightning rod for controversy and an easy target for ridicule and disdain, often and especially because of their own actions (e.g., Bono spray-painting “Rock and Roll Stops the Traffic” on a San Francisco public fountain, overindulging on red wine and disappearing for a quick nap during an interview, insulting Coldplay’s Chris Martin on the radio). Even though the band members themselves are often the first to admit to any foolishness or idiocy–Bono especially–it doesn’t seem to make much of a dent in the thicket of negativity surrounding them.

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The Best ’90s Songs You Completely Forgot About

Several weeks ago, BuzzFeed ran a roundtable discussion of ’90s rock songs titled “38 Great Alt-Rock Songs You Haven’t Thought About In 20 Years.” The list was impressively thorough, covering the decade’s myriad fierce women and women-fronted acts (Juliana Hatfield, Poe, Letters to Cleo), musical obscurities (St. Johnny, Dig, Ammonia), oddities (Whale’s “Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe”) and great bands that should have been huger (Girls Against Boys).

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