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DOWNLOAD: The “ILLBOARD” Hot 100 playlist – Kembrew’s guide to going (instru)-Mental this Christmas

DOWNLOAD THE PLAYLIST If you’re like me, Christmas songs probably send you into a murderous rage that ends with a trail of bloody reindeer and a decapitated Salvation Army Santa (those incessant ringing BELLS!). Fortunately, I have a plan to combat this musical menace that does not involve bloodshed. What you need is an impenetrable […]

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Prairie Pop: Putting the Mental back in Instrumental

My son Alasdair turns two next month, and lately he has been immersing himself in the wild world of sound. If mom walks up the creaky wooden stairs to his bedroom, he’ll say, “Mommy sound!” Or, when I crack open a PBR, Alasdair points to the can and blurts out, “Daddy sound!” A train whistle […]

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Prairie Pop: The Chump and the Champ

At the beginning of his professional boxing career, Cassius Clay was primarily known for winning an Olympic gold medal and possessing a loud mouth. Most sportswriters hated him, especially the old guard, who felt he was not properly deferential. The racist treatment by boxing crowds and journalists certainly would have justified Clay throwing his Olympic […]

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Prairie Pop: The Iowa roots of the “Paul is Dead” hoax

Did you ever hear about the “Paul is Dead” rumor, involving the Beatles’ Paul McCartney? Did you know it originated in Iowa? Back in 1969, news spread that he died in a car accident and was secretly replaced by a look- and sound-alike. The story originally appeared in an Iowa college newspaper and fanned out […]

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Prairie Pop: To Hell in a Handbasket – “Paradise Lost” and the story of the West Memphis Three

In 1993, three second grade boys were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas—a deeply conservative community in the heart of the Bible Belt. Naturally, Satanism was blamed and suspicion was cast on a trio of outsiders: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. “Fears of satanic cults reached their peak last week when the teenagers […]

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Prairie Pop: Black Rain Onslaught – Pitchfork Preview + Interview with Tim Hecker

So, you are a composer and performer whose music requires close listening, preferably in the dark. Your recent Iowa City show at the First United Methodist Church blew the audience away—or, rather, it sucked them into an all-enveloping temporary autonomous zone created with pipe organ and electronics. This aural explosion transported some listeners into the […]

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Atomic Andy Kaufman: The Comedian That Loved to Bomb

  Early in Andy Kaufman’s career, the comedic performance artist sometimes opened for musicians—including, implausibly, schlock-popper Barry Manilow and R&B greats the Temptations. The latter group’s predominantly black fan base wasn’t feeling his inept Foreign Man routine, so they unleashed an avalanche of boos as he wept uncontrollably. Kaufman then pulled out a large cap […]

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Fishbone is Back! – An interview with Fishbone Bassist Norwood Fisher

I made it out of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s without a single tattoo, but if I did get inked, it likely would have been a Fishbone logo. They were my favorite band when I was a teen, and I wasn’t alone. Back in the mid-to-late-1980’s, two Los Angeles area bands—the Red Hot Chili Peppers […]

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Strange Attraction: An Interview with Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields, the brainchild of pop prodigy Stephin Merritt, hold a unique place in my musical heart. I came across the group purely by chance in 1994 after finding their Holiday album in a dollar bin (the record store clerk who priced it clearly didn’t realize what a gem it was). Rarely have I […]

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Prairie Pop: Identity Adorned

“Come with us through melody to the four corners of the earth,” the KTLA station announcer said as a mysterious man mesmerized viewers with a blissful gaze. “Hear music exotic and familiar spring from the amazing hands of Korla Pandit, on a musical adventure!” This attractive, androgynous figure massaged the organ with his slender fingers, […]

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Elements of Style: How a Gender-Bending Wrestler Changed Pop Culture

Professional wrestler Gorgeous George, the self-proclaimed “beautiful” showman, was a man out of time. Few entertainers—or anyone, for that matter—can claim such an eclectic and iconic list of devotees: James Brown, Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, Andy Kaufman and John Waters. Each borrowed a different element from George’s transgressive persona and style, adding their own spin […]

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Prairie Pop: The Most Unforgettable Voice You've Never Heard

Rarely has a lowly rock critic altered the course of popular music history, but Chuck Eddy did. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but bear with me. Back in the mid-1980s he reviewed Aerosmith’s Done With Mirrors, which captured the band at the lowest point in their career. When that album was released, they […]

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