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David Kamp writes...
Two years ago, I wrote an article for Vanity Fair about the fruitful and seemingly unlikely collaboration between Johnny Cash and the hard-rock and rap impresario Rick Rubin. The ostensible peg of the article, published in the October 2004 issue, was that the last product of the Cash-Rubin partnership, American V, was about to be released.

The article came out, but the album never did. Rubin later explained to me that his boutique label, American Recordings, was caught up in the personnel changes and ructions at Universal, American’s distribution partner, leading to a delay in new American releases. But now, with American partnered with Warner Bros. for distribution, American V will at last hit the shops. It comes out on July 4th.

A few weeks ago, Rubin kindly sent me an advance master of American V, which now carries the subtitle A Hundred Highways. I’ve been listening to it a lot. It’s magnificent, and, if anything, even more heartbreaking and death-stalked than the final Cash album released in Cash’s lifetime, American IV: The Man Comes Around, which gave us his shockingly frail version of Nine Inch Nails’s “Hurt.”

In the VF article (which I swear I’ll post soon, along with other music pieces I’ve written), I wrote about two raw, unembellished recordings that Rubin played for me, both made–like the rest of American V’s material–in the harrowing four-month period in 2003 between the death of Cash’s wife, June Carter, and his own death. The songs I mentioned, “Help Me” by Larry Gatlin and “The 309,” the last-ever Cash original, are tracks one and three of the new album. Rubin has gussied them up some for proper release, but they still sound ancient and splintery, more like outtakes from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music than Johnny Cash records. The song between them, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” a traditional popularized by Odetta and done here in clomping chain-gang style, sounds even more Harry Smith-y, with Cash quavering near the top of his range* like John Jacob Niles or some faltering 1926 porch geezer.

The only thing about this album that gives me pause is its brevity–just twelve songs over forty-odd minutes. Rubin had told me he’d been toying with making American V a double, given the wealth of material he had at hand, and pointedly said he did not want to keep releasing posthumous albums, Tupac-style, because “there’s something that doesn’t feel good about the Tupac-ing.” I have to think that more of the 2003 recordings will somehow see the light of day, perhaps as bonus cuts to some deluxe American re-release down the line.

* CORRECTION/UPDATE: Actually, I just listened to the album again, and it’s on “The 309” that Cash strains near the top of his range; still, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” sounds more like a relic than a 2003 recording. I also meant to note that the version of “Help Me” that opens the album is a different take than the nakedly grief-stricken one that Rubin played for me in 2004. Perhaps Rick decided that the version I heard was just too personal, too upsetting, to release for mass consumption.

1. Help Me
2. God’s Gonna Cut You Down
3. The 309
4. If You Could Read My Mind
5. Further On Up the Road
6. The Evening Train
7. I Came to Believe
8. Love’s Been Good to Me
9. A Legend in My Time
10. Rose of My Heart
11. Four Strong Winds
12. Free from the Chain Gang Now

May 30, 2006 More Rock Snobbery »



Sifting daily through the mail that comes to us via the Nitpicker’s Corner section of the site–most of it from aggrieved fans of Guided by Voices, wondering why their favorite indie band didn’t make it into The Rock Snob*s Dictionary–we must necessarily deal with a torrent of pharmaceutical spam (Viagra, Cialis, Vioxx, etc.). Usually, these spam e-mails spout gibberish in their subject lines, but occasionally, the subject line will be a bit of found narrative–lifted from, say, Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White–or, in the case of a spam e-mail we received yesterday, from ’80s synth pop. The e-mail in question arrived with the subject line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had”–a lyric familiar to anyone who moped through the early ’80s in eyeliner from the song “Mad World” by the pre-“Shout,” wedge-haircut-and-overcoats-era Tears for Fears (above). We opened the e-mail, suspecting it was from an aggrieved goth, only to find the usual pitch for generic Viagra.

Which makes us wonder: Does anyone out there know how and where these spam subject lines are generated? Even if it’s in some boiler room in Malaysia, you wonder whose idea it was to plunder the Roland Orzabal songbook.

May 25, 2006 More Rock Snobbery »


David Kamp writes...
In 2002, I was assigned to do an oral history of the British Invasion for Vanity Fair’s annual music issue. As fun as it was to talk to the people I expected to talk to–Dave Clark, Marianne Faithfull, Peter Noone, various Zombies and Kinks, the associates of the Beatles, Stones, and Who–I most enjoyed talking to the forgotten stars of that era, people I’d never heard of until I set out to report the piece. My absolute favorite was the Manchester-born Freddie Garrity of Freddie and the Dreamers, who, for a brief, glorious moment in 1965-66, was as big a pop star as anyone, albeit an exceedingly silly one; with his thick glasses and spasmodic signature dance (derived, he told me, from watching pig farmers shake the muck off their legs), he was straight out of a Peter Sellers movie.

Freddie died last Friday, May 19, at the age of sixty-nine. When I spent a day with him at his home near Stoke four years ago, he was already in rough shape, weakened by pulmonary disease that had suddenly overtaken him on a plane ride the year previous. (“I'd been leapin’ aroun’ stage until I had the attack,” he said.) Nevertheless, he struggled up from his chair to do “the Freddie,” as his wacky dance was called, and supplied me with a steady drip of music-hall quipperoos. “All of a sudden I had girls coming out of my ears,” he said of his unanticipated U.S. success. “And, you know, I didn’t want to go deaf.”

In the clip above, Freddie performs his 1965 U.S. number-one hit, “I’m Telling You Now,” with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon on Hullabaloo.

May 22, 2006 More Rock Snobbery »


One of the curious effects of YouTube–and, indeed, of the World Wide Web in general–is that the faint, vaporous memories of one’s cultural youth need no longer be so faint; type in a few search words, and you can empirically refute or verify some bonkers notion that’s been rattling ’round your brain. Such as: Did Richard Branson really appear in the video for the 1980 XTC single “Generals and Majors,” a video viewed just once, in one’s early teens? On the evidence of the video posted above: Yes indeed, that really was Branson.

At 2:40 in the clip, the Virgin chief’s trousers fall down, Benny Hill-style. Not until the heyday of Sean Combs’s Bad Boy label would a label boss again make such an oafish appearance in one of his artists’s videos.

May 15, 2006 More Rock Snobbery »



Not since the golden age of Neil Innes, the Python adjunct who played Ron Nasty in the Rutles film All You Need Is Cash and was a founding member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (see page 13 of The Rock Snob*s Dictionary), has there been as adept a Beatles parodist as Peter Serafinowicz. A polymathic Brit who co-created the brilliant educational-TV parody Look Around You for the BBC, starred in the film Shaun of the Dead, and even supplied the voice of Darth Maul to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Serafinowicz has lately gone viral with cheaply produced, bang-for-the-buck comedy shorts.

The first one came out just before the Oscars and included Serafinowicz’s alarmingly accurate imitations of Alan Alda, Al Pacino, and, most winningly, Paul McCartney (putatively nominated for his theme song from Capote, which begins, in chirpy Macca style, “Ohhh, Capote/ I love the books that you wrote-y”). The new Serafinowicz short addresses Apple Corps’s recent (and unsuccessful) lawsuit against Apple Computer. Serafinowicz “does” John and Ringo quite well, but it’s still his Paul that’s most chucklesome. Click and enjoy.

May 10, 2006 More Rock Snobbery »


The explosive growth of SnobCorp Holdings Ltd continues: Broadway Books, our publishing partner for The Rock Snob*s Dictionary and The Film Snob*s Dictionary, will saddle up with us for two sequels, The Food Snob*s Dictionary and The Wine Snob*s Dictionary, provisionally scheduled for fall ’07 and/or spring ’08 publication. Who knows, there may even be apparel and calendars and cross-media synergy and stuff.

For now, completely out of season, here’s a link to one of the other Dictionaries that have appeared in Vanity Fair, Volume II of the as yet un-book-dealed Football Snob*s Dictionary.

May 09, 2006 More Declamations »

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