Devin McKinney

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

Recent Articles

Playing the Game

On February 28, a shooting occurred outside the studios of Hot 97, New York's top hip-hop station, where Queens-born rapper Curtis Jackson, a k a 50 Cent (at the moment, the genre's preeminent artist), was being interviewed. He used the occasion to publicly disown his protégé, The Game (real name Jayceon Taylor, of Compton, California), for having failed to back up his denunciations of certain other rappers. The Game, as it happened, was being interviewed just then on another local station, and a flurry of calls alerted him to the situation. Game and his gang -- their anger stoked by a taunting phone-in or two -- charged over to Hot 97, but were barred from entering the building. Another crew of men appeared, guns came out, and shots were fired -- one hitting a Game associate in either the leg or the buttocks, depending on the early report. 50 Cent quickly issued statements downplaying the seriousness of the affair, claiming media exaggeration; meanwhile, The Game was excoriating his...

Outside Influences

"Real, pure, unaffected by outside influences." So the Shaggs were described in the liner notes to their legendary 1969 album, Philosophy of the World . In this rare case, jacket hype disguised truth: Dot, Betty, and Helen Wiggin of Fremont, New Hampshire, had a sound that seemed innocent indeed of any other music then being made, any stylistic dictates outside those of their own sisterly collective. Their sound -- two guitars, two voices, and a minimal drum kit -- was inimitable, inexplicable, and indefensible, a heedless clatter of misaligned rhythms and clueless vocals. Even their enunciations were outrageous: They delivered their pixilated lyrics about motor cars, parents, and pets like recent immigrants from some undiscovered country off the coast of Maine. It was spooky how removed the Shaggs were from polite musical stricture. Cream, the other major power trio of the day, were tea-sipping fuds in comparison. All of which means the Shaggs were equally unaffected by "inside"...

Pop Irony -- Past, Present, and Future

On an Alex Chilton bootleg called Starcrossed , there's a suite of songs recorded at a Manhattan rock club sometime in 1977 or '78. The singer, supported by a small band, is playing oldies to a small crowd -- Porter Waggoner's "The Rubber Room," Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love," some Everly Brothers, and Carl Perkins. By this point in time, Chilton has been through the industry mill: He's known success as the 16-year-old lead singer for the Box Tops ("The Letter") and failure fronting the Memphis power-pop also-rans Big Star (three acclaimed but unsuccessful albums). He's less than 30 years old and sings as if his career has been a sour joke. To open this round of postmodern nostalgia, he's chosen "Past, Present and Future," by the Shangri-Las. Released in 1966, the original had missed the Top 40 by a mile; effectively, it spelled the end of the group's brief life on the charts. The vocal trio from Queens, New York, had had hits with "Leader of the Pack," "Remember (Walking in...

Other Voices, Other Countries

I've never heard a piece of reggae, ska, or rock-steady I didn't like at least a little. The off-beat of Jamaican pop can make anything sound good -- even the tribute album. Most tributes are a waste of time, and from the Hollies' late-'60s effort to the 30th anniversary concert held at Madison Square Garden in 1992, the many extended encomia to the music of Bob Dylan have been particularly sucky. Too much tribute, not enough pleasure. Is it Rolling Bob? A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan, Vol. 1 (Sanctuary/Ras) breaks the rule. Here pleasure is continuous, tribute all but incidental. It says nothing bad about Dylan, and everything good about this double-disc collection, that you can listen to the whole thing and devote perhaps ten seconds of thought to the artist whose work inspired it. The best performances are either uncomplicated bliss (the Mighty Diamonds contribute the 300th satisfying version of "Lay Lady Lay") or left-field revision (rapper Sizzla reinvents "Subterranean Homesick...

The Great Crank

What did anyone expect, upon hearing that Bob Dylan had written a memoir? What would the style be, what would it want to say? Would it be like those liner notes he wrote in the '60s, full of secondhand Beatitudes rendered superfluous by the real poetry, verbal and musical, inside the jackets? Or would it be a return of that awful Tarantula -speak, liner notes writ large in Dylan's first and only "novel" -- "between the shrieking mattress in the kitchen & Time, a mysterious weekly," etc. -- written in 1966, published in 1971, and read almost never? What Dylan has delivered with Chronicles, Volume One is probably the one thing no one expected, not really: the best book, potentially, there will ever be about Bob Dylan -- the darkest, the funniest, the most twisted and angular, the richest and most sensual, the only one a reader might fall into and never hit the bottom. I say "potentially" only because the book is titled Volume One , and so remains to be finished. But if things happen...

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