Curiosity Without Boundaries: An Interview with Kirk Hammett

Kirk Hammett lives according to, what he calls, “curiosity without boundaries.” The lead guitarist of Metallica provides an impressive, but unpretentious reminder that many observers of the heavy metal and hard rock juggernaut might forget: Despite their unlikely mainstream status, after selling more than 125 million records worldwide, Metallica navigates strictly according to their own cartography. On October 1st, I interviewed Kirk Hammett about the Black Album, his philosophy of creativity, and the often misunderstood identity of Metallica.

MP3 Killed the Rockstar: The Downfall of Guns N’ Roses

My 33 and 1/3 book on Use Your Illusion I and II is the only one of my seven books, as author or editor, to have no acknowledgment section. David Barker, who edited the series back then (2006), read the manuscript, accurately predicted that Guns N’ Roses fans would hate it, but said he liked it and we should go ahead and publish the thing. For a good stretch, it was the worst selling title in the series. The conceit, applying Nicholson Baker’s U and I, a book on John Updike that Baker wrote about his half-remembered take on Updike rather than undertaking new research, but here used to create a UYI and I based on my own blurry impressions, all but guaranteed that.

Nenes to Nenez 30 Years On

In 2021, Nenez (using their recent romanized name with a “z” instead of a “s”) celebrated their 30th anniversary with the release of the indies album, Gajumaru. Founded in 1991, the group has seen a number of line-up changes, with three of the current quartet joining in 2019. The ever changing line-ups are comparable with groups such as the American all-women trio, The Three Degrees, which dates from 1963 and is a brand that continues to this day. Indeed,
brand Nenez (or Nēnēzu, to use the transliteration of their Okinawan name) has gone through several phases that have transitioned from a world music act of the 1990s to live-house entertainment in their most recent guise.

Unconventional research and writing with Sam Cooke

People who write often think there are rules that you more or less have to follow. Or should follow. I see a lot made of how much time people spent on their book, and their heaps and heaps of research. I guess maybe I should start by saying that the time in which I wrote the book probably didn’t much resemble the time frames of most other writers.

Sam Cooke, singing and what it means to be a singer-writer

Let’s talk about Sam Cooke and singing and what it means to be a singer-writer. Or a writer-singer.

What does it mean to sing?

I know, I know—you sounded sublime this morning in the shower, when you channeled your inner Robert Plant and delivered a knockout “When the Levee Breaks,” or maybe you were Billie Holiday, with a soul-pasting version of “Lover Man.”

The Drum Machine That Helped Open Paul’s Boutique

When you talk about drum machines and Paul’s Boutique, there are two things that even casual listeners can probably hear. The first is that you don’t hear a lot of drum machines on the album. A big part of the record’s legacy is its sampled beats, assembled into intricate, polyrhythmic collages by The Dust Brothers and Matt Dike.

But Matt Dike thought it was less a song than an opportunity. “When I heard it,” he told me, back in 2005, “I knew they were in trouble.”

Sam Cooke In Action: Don’t get caught in the oldies trap!

Macbeth, of course, is a literary oldie. It’s an oldie that still informs our world. Vaulting ambition and all. I mention Macbeth and the idea of relevant oldies for a reason. Sam Cooke is often dogged by the oldies label. Oldies are a genre, right? You hear “Wooly Bully” and “At the Hop” and, yes, Cooke’s “You Send Me,” on the oldies station in the car, and all seems right with the world. These songs are where they should be. You’re having a nice Sunday drive with the windows down in early autumn.

Becoming a Voracious Listener with Sam Cooke

Guest post by Colin Fleming Take the Sam Cooke path and be a VL (Voracious Listener)—it will serve you well in every aspect of life. Hello 33 1/3-ians! I’m back for guest blog entry number two, with this dossier of supplementary Sam Cooke materials. Let’s get to it! Do you remember the age you were when you first got into a given artist or work of art that you care about a lot? I bet you probably do. And you can pinpoint what it meant to you at that moment.…

The Love and Tragedy of Henry Lee

Santi Elijah Holley on the story behind Nick Cave and PJ Harvey’s ballad duet For young Americans living under the specter of the Cold War and imminent nuclear annihilation, where the ideological divide between younger and older generations was growing wider and wider, an obscure collection of bluegrass, country, folk, blues, and gospel music was a surprising choice as a countercultural “bible.” But that’s exactly what Greenwich Village folksinger Dave Van Ronk called the Anthology of American Folk Music, the six-LP collection of eighty-four songs that had originally been recorded…

The Legend of the Bad Man Stagger Lee

Santi Elijah Holley on the history of murder ballads In a saloon in St. Louis, Missouri, an African American man named Billy Lyons was shot dead by an African American man named Lee Shelton, also known as “Stagger Lee,” following a dispute over a Stetson hat. This murder was otherwise unremarkable—it was one of five murders in St. Louis on that Christmas night in 1895—but the cold-bloodedness of Shelton’s killing and the callousness with he walked away from Lyon’s prone body quickly spread by word-of-mouth, with each successive narrator creating…