Friday, December 14, 2007

My new book A Brief History of Rock, Off the Record
got a nice mention in the Nov. 21, 2007 issue of East Bay Express, the alt-weekly that covers Berkeley, Oakland and other parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties in Northern California. "Why dance to music when you can read about it in Wayne Robins' A Brief History of Rock, Off the Record (Routledge, $24.95)," writes Anneli Rufus in her witty gift-guide that doubles as an impassioned defense of the viability of reading and books. (Title of the column: "Hark, the Superheroes Sing
Give and get books this year — before it's too late.) Thanks, Anneli!

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Brief History of Rock, Off the Record


The Fader At 50

by Wayne Robins

That's 50 issues, being celebrated this month by the culture magazine with 360-degree vision and unwavering dedication to pursuing interesting music/arts/photography to the most distant reaches of the globe and the most impenetrable niches of the closest cities. Few magazines have such a thin filter between the passions of the editors and what appears in the magazine. Avant-garde theater people in the '60s spoke of breaking down the fourth wall between performer and audience. The Fader (started in 1998 as a quarterly, it now publishes eight issues a year in the U.S. and six in Japan) routinely erases the wall between editor/writer/photographer/designer and reader. Put another way, they are what they cover, or at least create that damn strong impression. It is the mission, editor in chief Alex Wagner said in a statement, "to cover emerging artists and communities that are changing and redirecting culture." And they do. Wagner is a regular on my annual list of the 50 Most Fascinating People; if Wayne's Words had a stash of discretionary cash, and there was a charity auction in which the prize was dinner with Wagner, I'd bid pretty high.

Though fashion, the visual arts and the sand trap called lifestyle imbue every issue, music is the medium that gives Fader its rootedness. They got in early on Atlanta hip-hop, New York rock 2000, the explosive M.I.A. and related (however distant) forms of subcontinental subculture. The A to Z retrospective in issue 50 begins with Afrobeat, Akon and Animal Collective and ends, wittily, with Zzzzz: "Artists we love that the world has been sleeping on," including Yummy Bingham, the Skygreen Leopards, White Magic, David Vandervelde, Ugly Casanova and Trae, about the latter of whom I will have to defer to the Fader's judgment.

But that's OK. I find Fader's hipper-than-thou quotient liberatingly low. Thumbing through an issue of the Fader is like having a conversation with some culturally adventurous, enthusiastic acquaintances who can't wait to turn you on to whatever it is that gets their motor running. The attitude is, hey, this DJ/band/scene is pretty cool, and you might want to check it out.

Despite the focus on what's going to be heard on next month's mixtapes, the magazine is wise enough—hip enough, in my eyes—to embrace the historical predecessors of today's musical trends. In the 50th issue's Vinyl Archaeology section, props are given not just to 1981 post-punk South Bronx rhythm savants ESG, but to Can's "Ege Bamyasi" and Caetano Veloso's "Transa" (both 1972), the underrated and eternally swinging Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band (1976), and two classics from the never-to-be-matched again Warner/Reprise catalog: Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" and Paul Simon's "Graceland." In other words, they make this boomer feel welcome at their party, and a lively party it is. So I wish the Fader happy 50th with a quote from my man Chuck Prophet, who in 2004's album "Age of Miracles" reposed the eternal question and then answered it: "Who put the bomp in the bomp shoobee doobie bomp, who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong? You did."

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