Devin McKinney

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

Recent Articles

Facing the Country Music

If Van Morrison and Neil Young share anything, it's nothing much deeper than time, talent, and peculiarity. They've been around for the same stretch of years. Both began in other people's bands, and had their first hits in the same era. Both went solo early, while maintaining long-term affiliations with other artists. Both stood out at The Band's Last Waltz concert. Both have traveled the genre map, ranging widely and sometimes alarmingly over styles. Both are older now, and seldom perform hatless. Both remain creative and interesting to watch. Aside from all that, their fortunes are their own. With his new album, Pay the Devil -- a collection of country and honky-tonk ballads, some classic, some obscure -- Morrison may be attempting the sort of transformation other pop and R&B performers have achieved by going country. Or he may just enjoy singing the songs of Hank Williams, George Jones, and Webb Pierce. He certainly hasn't gone native or anything: Despite its steel-guitar...

Idols True and False

Some cultural manifestations are like glossy paper: You pick them up, examine them, and put them down again. They're smooth, self-contained, and leave no residue on those who touch them. An academic essay on Abu Ghraib, for instance, or an opinion column. Others are like flypaper: You can't touch them without getting stuck to something -- in the case of “American Idol,” to symbols of Americanness. The show is controlled by and comprised of flesh-and-blood mortals who don't seek to be symbols or to act them out. And yet the show represents, emblematizes, signifies like crazy. It's democracy itself. “Idol” commenced its fifth season on January 17, and it's clear by now that there are several non-symbolic reasons for its success. It has hit on a long-term combination of quality (in the rough sense of consistently giving people something they want) and controversy. It's already racked up an impressive number of minor scandals. Its three judges -- “nice” Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul, “...

The John & Curtiss Show

December 8th was a warm, dampish day in the media: John Lennon had been dead for a quarter-century, and everywhere tears came down. But in Minneapolis it was dry and well below freezing, with heat provided by anger, dancing bodies, and some very loud music. People did their crying in private; in public they raved it up. The Minneapolis rock scene is a place where extremes meet: cold and clear outside, hot and smoky inside, a lot of pale skin and Nordic accents on people who are just as wired up and bugged out on rock 'n' roll as anywhere else in America. There's madness up there among the lakes. Lennon's spirit inhabits the Twin Cities, sure enough, but not as some objective, spectral essence -- more like a found object that's been welded tightly and inextricably into a preexisting structure. Godfather to the whole scene is Curtiss A, who has been performing a Lennon tribute show at the legendary First Avenue club in downtown Minneapolis for the last 26 years. (Yes, 26: the first...

Preoccupied With 1985

“Hung Up,” track one of Madonna's new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor , knocks you over the head instantly. Her voice is that familiar mechanical cry, half-woman, half-machine, all sex. The beat is focused and forceful, the melody hooked on one slightly delayed chord change in the chorus -- a calculated swerve that gives the illusion of throwing off the rhythm before veering right back to lock it in, tighter than before. It's classic Madonna, an eccentric, propulsive, atmospheric dance epic up there with “Lucky Star,” "Into the Groove," and "Open Your Heart.” Those were hits in the years 1983-86: a purposeful reference. Though Confessions evokes the ‘70s in its artwork, its glamorous post-disco groove is Spirit of ‘84, and this album, along with others lately issued, shows how the still-active veterans of that checkered decade are dealing with its legacy. If you thought the '80s were over and tucked away, a decade-long bad memory, you were wrong. They've returned in the form of...

That's Like Hypnotizing Chickens

Madison Avenue, that locus of all known evil, is at it again. Right now there's a Tommy Hilfiger commercial that uses the Jefferson Airplane song "Volunteers" as the sound-bed for a montage of hunky, wholesome boys and girls in a summer-home setting, frolicking in stonewashed denims and rugged cottons. The song has been deployed by admen once before (in a spot for the on-line brokerage e-Trade), and again the true text of its lyrics -- not some abstracted meaning but its literal thrust, what it always was about -- has been neatly expurgated. "Look what's happening out in the streets," Marty Balin wails, backed by hits of Grace Slick: "Got to revolution, got to revolution." Hilfiger is a mogul who wants mainly to revolutionize his bottom line, and in this ad the song's "volunteers of America" become eager consumers who presumably look just like these sexy, capering models. The Airplane, for their part, meant "revolution" in the total, not just sartorial sense, and when they sang "Now...

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