Summary: Rock Critic Steven Hyden ("Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me", "Twilight Of The Gods") talks with rock stars and the country’s biggest music writers about what’s happening in rock.
On Dec. 22, 2002, Joe Strummer of The Clash returned home after walking his dogs and died suddenly at the age of 50. The cause of death was a defective heart artery — who would've thought that Joe Strummer of all people would have a defective heart? A humanitarian whose commitment to antiracist and antifascist ideologies fueled his passionate music, Strummer remains an inspiration for new generations of musicians. One of those people is Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, who paid tribute to Strummer in the 2008 song "Constructive Summer," which includes the memorable lyric: "Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer / I think he might've been our only decent teacher." Finn actually met Strummer in 1999, a story he shares in this week's episode, along with his thoughts on Strummer's legacy and what it means so many years after his death.
As the leader of Superchunk and the co-founder of Merge Records, Mac McCaughan is a key player in the history of American indie rock. He tells Steve about how hardcore inspired him to start his own band in the '80s, and how it also informs Superchunk's new politicized album, "What A Time To Be Alive," which will be out in early 2018. He also talks about how the Internet affected the uniqueness of underground culture — basically, it ruined everything, he says, though it's still possible to carve out safe spaces for special things to happen.
This one is self-explanatory — Steve counts down the best LPs of 2017 with his colleague and friend Caitlin White from URPOXX.com.
Wilco is now recognized as one of the best and most beloved American rock bands of the last 25 years. But once upon a time, Wilco was a burgeoning project started by Jeff Tweedy in the aftermath of Uncle Tupelo's acrimonious breakup. Teaming up with John Stirratt, who had initially joined the Uncle Tupelo crew as a guitar tech just a few years prior, Tweedy set about forming a new band that would eventually transcend the alt-country label. Before a recent show in St. Paul, Steve met up with Jeff and John backstage to talk about the band's early days, and how the band evolved dramatically between its 1995 debut, "A.M.," and 1996's "Being There." (Both of those records will be reissued in special expanded editions Dec. 1.) Steve also found out which song from "Being There" makes Jeff choke up each time he plays it.
Every year at Thanksgiving time Steve tries to watch "The Last Waltz," Martin Scorsese's classic 1978 documentary about the final concert performed by the original incarnation of The Band. It's his favorite Thanksgiving movie: Other films have used Thanksgiving as a backdrop, but "The Last Waltz" IS Thanksgiving. This week, we invited another "Last Waltz" fan, the critic and poet Hanif Abdurraqib, to talk about the film and why it has extra significance at Thanksgiving. Turns out Hanif, a Muslim who didn't grow up celebrating the holiday, has his own annual tradition tied up with "The Last Waltz," after watching the film in college with other kids who were stranded in the dorm over the holidays. Join us as we dig into the minutia of one of the great rock films ever made!
On Oct. 17, Gord Downie died from brain cancer, sparking widespread mourning in his native country of Canada. Across the country for days afterward, there were candlelit vigils in his honor. For Canadians, this wasn't just the death of a beloved rock star. It was the end of a universally respected national institution. For Americans, this might all seem a little hard to understand. The Tragically Hip had only a small cult audience in this country, briefly attaining a high profile in 1995 in the wake of a performance on Saturday Night Live, which booked the Hip at the insistence of the Hip's friend, Dan Aykroyd. Why did a band that was so huge in Canada, with a singer-songwriter who is essentially that country's equivalent of Bruce Springsteen, have such a minimal impact in the U.S.? And what have us Americans missed out on? I called up Stuart Berman, a writer for Pitchfork among other publications, to explain the Hip's significance north of the border, and offer a primer on how to get into the band. As a recent Hip convert myself, I had my own ideas in this regard. (Start with Day For Night!) The idea of this episode is to celebrate a great band with a one-of-a-kind frontman — even though Gord Downie is gone, he lives on in the enthusiasm of each new Tragically Hip convert.
More than any other writer or editor, Jann Wenner has shaped the narrative of rock history from his perch at "Rolling Stone" and, later, as one of the gatekeepers at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. In Joe Hagan's new book, "Sticky Fingers: The Life And Times Of Jann Wenner And Rolling Stone Magazine," Wenner's life and career are contextualized in the cultural shifts in America from the '60s through the modern era, showing how Wenner ruthlessly engineered or capitalized on these changes for immense personal gain. In this episode, Hagan talks about his rocky relationship with Wenner, as well as Wenner's equally rancorous dealings with rock stars such as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney. Ultimately, Wenner and his political opposite, Donald Trump, have more in common than either man would care to admit, Hagan says. With support from: Harry's and Brooklinen
For several generations of rock fans, Weezer's "Blue Album" and its follow-up, "Pinkerton", are foundational albums of adolescence. What is it about Rivers Cuomo's socially awkward anthems that connects with so many misfits? In the wake of a new Weezer album, "Pacific Daydream", Steve called up Vulture movie critic Emily Yoshida to discuss their mutual Weezer phases, and they wound up delving deep into the band's catalogue as well as the intensely emotional highs and lows of teenagerdom. Other topics include: the sorta-Weezer tribute band Ozma, the embarrassing video for "Beverly Hills," and the best Weezer songs to sing at karaoke. This episode, like that bottle of Steven's, is guaranteed to awaken ancient feelings. Support from: ZipRecruiter
On Friday, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Julien Baker will release her second album, "Turn Out The Lights," one of the most emotionally overpowering albums of 2017. A native of Memphis, Baker came up in the city's local punk scene, playing in the band Forrister before she started writing stark, confessional songs about on her own. Baker's 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle, was a critical favorite, but "Turn Out The Lights" ought to raise her profile. Earlier this month, I invited Baker on my podcast to talk about the record and her career. It was about a week after her 22nd birthday, and yet Baker immediately made it clear that she's wise beyond her years. Of course, you also get that impression from her songs. But Baker is the rare artist who can smartly analyze her own work, and articulate the thought process behind it. This makes for a great conversation, which also touches on her love of Bruce Springsteen, whether she would consider working with Jack Antonoff, and the secret to making people cry with a well-placed vocal quiver. Support from: Blue Apron
In 2011, back when I was a writer for The A.V. Club, I invented a game called The Five-Albums Test, in which I listed artists and bands that have at least five consecutive very good-to-great albums. Over the years, readers kept bringing up this column, and I was eventually inspired to write a sequel for UPROXX earlier this year. For this week's podcast, I decided to play the Five-Albums Test game with one of my all-time favorite music critics, Rob Sheffield. I figured someone with Rob's depth of knowledge would have an abundance of opinions on who does and doesn't pass the test. Fortunately, Rob did not disappoint — we wound up talking about everyone from Taylor Swift to Led Zeppelin. It's the nerdiest episode of Celebration Rock yet! Support from: Brooklinen
On October 5, one of the great albums of the '90s turned 25 years old. R.E.M.'s "Automatic For The People" sold four million copies in the U.S. and spawned hits like "Man On The Moon" and "Everybody Hurts," even though the album's somber chamber-folk scene was utterly unlike the raging grunge sound that was in vogue in rock music at the time. For R.E.M., one of the most acclaimed bands of the era, "Automatic For The People" represented an artistic pinnacle that many fans believe the band has never topped. To help me pay tribute to this landmark release, I called up friend of the podcast Brian Koppelman, a passionate music fan who also happens to be a successful screenwriter and producer. Brian and I often disagree about music, but we happen to share the opinion that "Automatic For The People" is the best R.E.M. album In our conversation, we try to place "Automatic" in the context of the band's career, and R.E.M.'s overall place in the history of rock. After my talk Brian, I hopped on with podcast producer Derek Madden to talk about why younger music seem to underrate R.E.M. in comparison to contemporaries like The Smiths and The Pixies. Warning: There is a lot of finger-wagging in this episode! Support from: Harry's
In this special "emergency" episode we play tribute to the late classic-rocker.
For more than 20 years, Dan Bejar has been putting out albums under the name Destroyer, a moniker that hints at Bejar's habit of reimagining his music with each new release. The trend continues with Destroyer's forthcoming album, "ken," due Friday, in which Bejar sings menacing songs about class warfare and the apocalypse over seductive synth-rock grooves that hearken back to '80s groups like New Order and Depeche Mode. On the podcast, Bejar talks about the inspiration for "ken," which (sort of) includes the 1994 album "Dog Man Star" by the cult Britpop band Suede, and (perhaps, though not explicitly) nods in the direction of the disruptive blowhard currently in charge of the U.S. government. We also spoke about Bob Dylan's gospel period in the late '70s and early '80s and Bejar's mid-life embrace of The Doors, which he insists is sincere. At least I think it's sincere — Bejar is the driest wit all of in indie rock, as our often funny conversation shows. With support from: ZipRecruiter, Brooklinen, and Harry's
The Killers put out a new album last Friday called "Wonderful Wonderful." It's not very good. In my review for Uproxx.com, I tried to make sense of the band's career, ultimately suggesting that the Killers sound like a band on its last legs. Is that a fair assessment, or was I off the mark? I decided to call up friend of the pod and long-time Killers fan Larry Fitzmaurice, an editor at "Vice," to help me go over the band's career. Did the Killers truly peak early with "Mr. Brightside," or is there more to this band's legacy? We also attempted to answer the eternal question: Are the Killers good, terrible, or good because they're terrible? Support from: SeatGeek, ZipRecruiter, Blue Apron
Last month I wrote about The Baker's Dozen, an historic run of 13 concerts at Madison Square Garden in which the long-running jam band Phish played more than 200 songs without any repeats. It was a blast to watch unfold. When I was offered an interview with Mike Gordon -- Phish's bassist and the cover model for my favorite Phish album, "Billy Breathes" -- I jumped at the chance. Last week, Gordon released a new solo LP, "OGOGO", that was produced by Shawn Everett, who also worked on recent albums by The War On Drugs and Grizzly Bear. We also talked a lot about The Baker's Dozen and "metaphysical" experience of playing music.