My piano teacher wanted me to learn Sergei Rachmaninoff’s prelude in C-sharp minor. I didn’t get past the first page. I bought a tape of Rachmaninoff’s complete preludes, and it sufficiently scared me off from trying any of those pieces at tempo.
At the time, my knowledge of classical music was scant. I knew the usual dead Germans — Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schumann — from piano exercises, but it was all just a monolith to my junior high self. Then my piano teacher introduced to some 20th century Russians — Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Rachmaninoff. These composers started to break down traditional harmony, and I became intrigued by the dissonance of their works.
Except Rachmaninoff, of course. His music was firmly planted in the 19th century, but I hadn’t yet developed an ear to distinguish the various eras. I figured if Rachmaninoff lived in the early 20th century, that made him a “20th Century Composer”.
The more I explored music of the modern era, the more I found Rachmaninoff wanting, and the tape I bought with all of his preludes would get sold for cash to make way for composers who aligned more with my tastes.
But I had already played it so many times that they actually sunk into my subconscious. When I retook my undergraduate music classes some 25 years later, a classmate would rehearse one of Rachmaninoff’s preludes, and I could hum along in my mind’s ear.
I don’t remember much about that tape. I kept a barebones catalog of my collection, but I didn’t note who performed those preludes. I just remember it was an RCA recording.
The Alexis Weissenberg compilation I picked up at the thrift store seemed to fit the bill. Playing it felt familiar, as if it made an exact mental match to what I remember. The first recording you hear of any classical work becomes a litmus, and if you internalize it, you can tell when someone else’s interpretation rubs against that perception.
The Weissenberg recordings felt like I had come home.
What is the memory you most associate with this title?
Spring break 1996. A number of college friends and I traveled to Moloka`i for the weekend. Having lived most of my life up till that point in highly urbanized Honolulu, I never imagined a place where every destination could be described in the singular — not a grocery store but the grocery store.
We rented a pair of cars, and I couldn’t abide by the radio. So we went to the record store, where I picked cassette tapes of Sade’s Diamond Life and Madonna’s Bedtime Stories. I liked Bedtime Stories enough to get it on CD when we got back to Honolulu.
What was happening in your life when it was released?
A year had passed since I returned from a college exchange program in New York City, and I could feel my focus slowly changing from music to journalism.
I was contributing more to the college newspaper, and I felt the music program was changing in a way I didn’t like. A beloved composition teacher had retired, and one of his replacements hadn’t yet developed the skill of letting students find their own voice, even if they were floundering. It was such an encounter that steered me away from composition a number of years after I graduated from college.
What was happening in your life when you bought it?
I was features editor of the college newspaper, which made me realize I was too dictatorial for management. I’ve avoided taking on leadership positions in my career since then.
On this trip, I smoked marijuana for the first time. I also had my first same-sex kiss — with a straight guy. With his girlfriend supervising. It was a good trip.
What do you think of it now?
Bedtime Stories is definitely one of the albums you should own if you’re a very casual Madonna listener.
She faltered a bit with Erotica, between a disastrous appearance on David Letterman and a controversial photo book that seems to have been forgotten. One of the photos from Sex popped up as an Internet meme, misattributing a naked Madonna as Marilyn Monroe.
Madonna recalibrated with Bedtime Stories, focusing more on a smoother R&B sound and even enlisting Björk to contribute the title track.
Anton Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vol. 3 (Ivan Ilić), Jan. 8
I usually pose questions on the blog rhetorically, so I wasn’t expecting Ivan Ilić himself to answer a query about what’s up with the remainder of his Reicha Rediscovered series. The third volume was expected in 2020, but SARS-CoV2 had other plans.
Rhye, Home, Jan. 22
Liked Blood. Was lukewarm about Woman. So I’m approaching Home with caution.
Utada Hikaru, One Last Kiss EP, Jan. 27
Utada Hikaru’s new single — it’s called an EP, but it’s really a maxi single — serves as the theme song for a new Evangelion movie. Hikki fans will probably have the other tracks on this release, which compiles her previous theme songs for the film series.
Cocco, Kuchinashi, Feb. 17
Is it already time for a new Cocco album? [Checks calendar.] Actually, this album arrives 18 months after 2019’s Star Shank, which is 1.5 years quicker than Cocco’s usual turnaround time.
Sturgill Simpson, Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 2, Apr. 2
Volume 1 of Cuttin’ Grass didn’t include tracks from A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, but Volume 2 does. It does not, however, include anything from Sound & Fury.
Soundtrack, Batman: Original Motion Picture Score (colored vinyl), Jan. 15
When Tim Burton’s Batman hit theaters in 1989, Warner Bros. tried to foist Prince’s album of songs for the movie as the official soundtrack. Fans wanting to hear Danny Elfman’s theme song were pretty miffed that they got a Prince album instead. So the label released Elfman’s score separately. I picked up an original vinyl pressing of the soundtrack a long while back, and I see it pop up in used bins from time to time. This reissue is part of Rhino’s annual Start Your Ear Off Right series.
bloodthirsty butchers, Mikansei, Jan. 20
I’m not aware of very many vinyl reissues of bloodthirsty butchers album. I wouldn’t mind seeing ones for yamane and Kouya ni Okeru bloodthirsty butchers.
Girl Talk, Feed the Animals, April 2021
Girl Talk is accepting orders for this second pressing of Feed the Animals. A recent e-mail announced orders are expected to ship at the end of April 2021 and includes packaging improvements.
I owned this album on vinyl, but I never played Side B all that much because the two hit singles were the two first tracks of the album (“Obsession”, “Let Him Go”). This album also had to compete with Duran Duran, Tears for Fears and ABC for my attention, and it didn’t fare well. Eventually, I would sell the record for cash.
I picked it up again at the thrift store and actually gave Side B a few spins. As a whole, the album holds together incredibly well. I went so far as to find the expanded edition reissued by Cherry Red on CD.
Big Black, Songs About Fucking
The arm of Big Black stretches long.
Richard Goode, Beethoven: The Complete Sonatas
Nonesuch offered a priced-down reissue of this boxed set for $25 to celebrate Beethoven’s birthday. That same week, I spotted a used copy of the original boxed set selling for that exact amount.
Sam Hunt, SOUTHSIDE
On Twitter, I said, “I find Sam Hunt simultaneously fascinating and disappointing.” The disappointing part are the bro country lyrics. The fascinating part is the use of hip-hop beats in country, which I hear is actually a thing.
Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You
Spike Lee has been described as someone who doesn’t know how to end his films. I sometimes feel the same about Bruce Springsteen. This album does drag after a while, but the stronger moments rank up there with his most renowned works.