Devin McKinney

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

Recent Articles

Series Of Clichés

Autumn is a-comin' in, and it's time to fetch up some more of that smoky Dylan mystique. So it arrives: No Direction Home , a two-part "American Masters" profile airing on PBS on September 26 and 27, directed by Martin Scorsese, and mounted by the combined foundational forces of Apple Computer, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, WNET-TV, and a few others. (The film has already been issued on DVD, along with a double-CD soundtrack album.) Like Anthology , The Beatles' standard-setting archival project, No Direction Home was made with the cooperation of the subject himself: Dylan is interviewed, as is virtually every still-living friend, associate, or collaborator of any significance to his early career. Additionally, Scorsese and his aides were given access to whole subcontinents of film and audio documentation, much of it lost long ago, or never logged until now. You needn't be told the film is worth seeing for this material alone. There's vintage footage from Hibbing, Minnesota...

The Times We Never Had

The Rolling Stones opened their latest U.S. tour on August 21 at Boston's Fenway Park, and despite high-end ticket prices too obscene to cite here, the Ameriquest-sponsored caravan will doubtless set new records for bodies shifted and dollars exchanged. But it's gotten way too easy to make jokes about corporate rock and wheelchair rock and cadaver rock. Finally, we must sheath our rapiers and accept that those things are beside the point: Great art has always been possible under dubious patronage (Ameriquest Mortgage isn't the Borgias, as far as we know), and only idiots think rock 'n' roll has no use for its geezers. If the Rolling Stones have become synonymous with lucrative mediocrity and elephantine irrelevance, place the blame where it belongs -- not on Wall Street money or the crime of aging but on the Stones themselves, for having long ago surrendered their sense of artistic vocation. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Charlie Watts are nothing if not steady workers --...

The Soul of the Nation

In times when too many things make too little sense -- for instance, the brazen millionaire crooks and liars that run our government in both its public and its private forms -- you grasp at anything in the culture that looks positive, promising. Pathetic pastime though it can seem, one is helpless to do otherwise. And pop music is the perfect grasping place precisely because it has always been vast and varied enough to justify any worldview -- depending on the needs of the moment, it will confirm the rosiest wishes, or the direst fears. There are times when the mainstream culture is so overbearingly cheerful, sanitary, or somnolent that it drives you to seek out any ugliness or contrary activity you can find. That's how punk happened. Other times, like right now, when the official American culture bespeaks arrogance, selfishness, and contempt for all but the narrowest, most backward values -- each celebrated, under a rubric like "pride" or "tradition" or "stay the course," as a...

Listening to The Monkey

" Deep down in the jungle where the coconuts grow / There's a signifying monkey that the WORLD should know … ” -- "The Signifying Monkey" (Willie Dixon) It was already humid inside the Beacon Theater when Elvis Costello and his backing band The Imposters took the stage on an April night to play the single New York show on their recent tour schedule. By the end of the two-hour performance, the building was a virtual tropic zone, the seats were vibrating, and the crowd had gotten funky in more ways than one. The star came out wearing a Stetson, a black suit, and cowboy boots covered with tiny mirrors -- a country gentleman with a touch of glam. The Imposters -- keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas, bassist Davey Faragher -- were their usual modest, uncostumed selves. The show started with "Welcome to the Working Week," the first song on Costello's first album, 1977's My Aim is True , and ended with "The Scarlet Tide," the final track from his most recent, 2004's The Delivery Man...

More Devils, Less Dust

"I got my finger on the trigger" are the first words you hear on Bruce Springsteen's new album, Devils & Dust . They bespeak a promise that's been implicit throughout Springsteen's career; they summon up a pose he has customarily struck. They also imply the sort of violent, alienating move -- a lethal shot, a symbolic act of murder -- that he has too seldom been willing to make. Those words come from the title song, a song that promises what the ensuing album won't deliver, except in pieces: music of rumbling danger and thickening drama; narratives whose vague, slurred lines make fleeting connections and then disperse. "Devils & Dust" seems to be about possessing power yet feeling powerless -- about how a loaded gun will not kill a worried man's nightmares, nor having God on his side stop the corpses around him from rotting. "A field of blood and stones," he saw last night in his dream, just before "the smell began to rise." Maybe the song is not about power or powerlessness,...

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