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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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Plagiarism 101: An Appropriated Oral History of The Tape-beatles

The Tape-beatles practice plagiarism as an art form. The group, founded in 1987, adopted techniques and ideas from concrete music to create a musical project intended to have broader appeal. In a nutshell, this Iowa City group set itself the task of creating music without… […]

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Prairie Pop: Pitchforked

Photo by Benjamin Franzen My editor assigned me to find out, in his words, “Is the Pitchfork Music Festival still fun?” As luck would have it, I’ve been perfecting an algorithm that calculates the objective quality of the festival experience using the Pitchfork website’s well known rating system, from 0.0 to 10.0. Heat is a […]

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Prairie Pop: In Slack We Trust

Dead Kennedys were punk provocateurs that made satire a central part of their concerts, song lyrics and, for that matter, band name. (Lots of baby boomer parents felt it was offensive, but for lead singer Jello Biafra, “Dead Kennedys” was a metaphor for the death of the American dream.) They were political pranksters in the […]

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Prairie Pop: The Devil Made Them Do It

The 1980s were ground zero for the Satanic Panics, when thousands of children were allegedly kidnapped, defiled and murdered in ritual abuse ceremonies. Even though police statistics made it clear there was no such epidemic, a nation of millions believed the hype. Geraldo Rivera’s 1988 prime-time special on the subject–“Exposing Satan’s Underground”–became the highest rated two-hour documentary in the history of television. […]

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Prairie Pop: Not Just Noise

The 1980s witnessed the height of the satanic ritual abuse scare, or the satanic panics. One of the greatest musical pranks that emerged from this milieu resulted in Helter Stupid, a record by the sound collage group Negativland. It was a concept album that thoughtfully reflected on the connections between rock music, violence, and media. […]

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