Devin McKinney

Devin McKinney is the author of Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History, just published by Harvard University Press.

Recent Articles

The Dream and the Curse

9-11 is an absence in Greil Marcus's The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice -- an absence that gives the book its structure, just as in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 it was a black screen and montage of screams, and in Oliver Stone's World Trade Center an engulfing shadow. It's the thing that isn't shown, that cannot be shown, but which draws in and defines all that is shown. In those two movies, the attack is a physical event; in The Shape of Things to Come it is a miasma, red death over a landscape crawling with acts and artworks that seem at first unrelated to the tragedy. Marcus invokes 9-11 and then leaves it to drift as -- to use a favored Marcusian image -- a curse, one that resonates with the prophesies voiced at the very founding of our country. The book's premise is simple: “There is no American identity without a sense of portent and doom.” The founding Americans defined themselves as a chosen people, possessing God's sanction and deserving of his...

Mad Love

The term “rock 'n' roll hero” has been overused in the past, and seldom with much apprehension of what heroes really are or what they go through. “Hero” encourages blind worship, an assumption of divine ordination -- but rock stars are as mortal as the next person, and often more fallible. And one hesitates to apply the mantle of heroism to a person who pursues, through personal choice and at small personal risk, what they hope will be a fantastically lucrative career offering creative fulfillment and sensual pleasure. But sometimes such rhetoric holds up. A hero is by common definition someone who evidences “courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” Arthur Lee, who died August 3 after a long battle with leukemia, showed ample amounts of the first two components -- and it wouldn't be difficult to argue that the third came in through the side door. Sometimes being a rock star of a certain kind, or to a certain degree of innovation and intensity, can be an act of heroic...

Have You Heard the Word?

“Always on My Mind” is the final song on Dumbing Up , the fifth album by World Party -- the corporate pseudonym of Welsh-born singer-songwriter-producer-instrumentalist Karl Wallinger. I first heard the song nearly five years ago, after Dumbing Up saw its initial limited, U.K.-only release. I'd spent a year obsessing my way into Wallinger's work, and now lay in a Brooklyn bed listening to this eight-minute doomsday ballad. It was a mundanely surreal vision of the End (or the Beginning?) redressed as a kind of lover's accusation directed at the world -- the world represented, a la Bob Dylan, by an unnamed “you.” A solo piano carried the fragile, repetitive melody; Wallinger, owner of an expressively ironic voice in the best Britpop tradition, sounded dazed and anxious, his irony crumbling by stages. The song was moving and magnificent, like much of the album that preceded it. But it wasn't necessarily more than that. My sleep was fairly peaceful. That was 2 a.m. on September 11, 2001...

Look at Those Stupid Girls

At YouTube.com, the popular video upload site, sandwiched between Natalie Portman's obscene Saturday Night Live rap and the Rolling Stones' 1963 Rice Krispies ad, are numerous amateur videos of adolescent females lip-synching to Pink's “Stupid Girls.” This single from her new album, I'm Not Dead , is a forthright denunciation of celebrity-obsessed, fashion-besotted, weight-anxious, cerebrally-challenged young American females, and a lament for the progressive aspirations that die with each dormant brain cell: What happened to the dreams of a girl President / She's dancing in the video next to 50 Cent . . . The song's accompanying video is an even more pointed harangue, funnier and more vicious -- which qualities doubtless account for the high volume of YouTube take-offs. In it Pink, like a distaff Eminem, dons elaborate costumery to send up her airhead contemporaries (Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton). The rapid montage racks up real-life reference points -- we all...

God, This Guy's Good

That must be a joke, I thought -- along with a million or so others. Months ago, there began to appear, on newspapers and Web sites and storefronts, pictures of a tall young white man in a long beard, broad-brimmed hat and flowing coat: the perfect Talmudic scholar, dressed in the uniform of the Hasidic Jew. The word was this: He's an MC doing some kind of reggae-rap amalgam, who's been building an audience with late-night TV appearances and sold-out nightclub shows across the country. His rhymes combine ferocious God-love with the kind of celebratory, Zion-seeking global uplift once associated with Bob Marley. He has a Top 10 rock hit, “King Without a Crown,” and a surefire smash third album, Youth . He's the latest pop sensation. His name is Matisyahu -- the Hasidic beatbox reggae-rapper. We tend to associate popular genres with well-defined physical and sartorial images: rapper, rocker, diva, folkie. That's partly because it's convenient, and partly because pop culture, for all its...

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