david schweitzer

Fulani noblewoman with tattooed lips and gold earrings, from a large semi-nomadic pastoral settlement

Fulani (Peul, Fulbe, Fula) women of this region often tattoo their lips, gums and the area around the mouth before marriage, a painful aesthetic practice and rite of passage signifying marital status. The extravagant gold earrings or “kwottenai kanye” symbolize the wealth and prestige of a husband or family based largely on the ownership of cattle among the semi-nomadic pastoral Fulani of this region. The earrings are also an aesthetic symbol of cultural pride and identity. They are usually a gift from a husband to his wife or an heirloom passed on to a daughter on the death of her mother. The large earrings are made by local smiths or artisans concentrated mostly in the Mopti region of northern Mali. They are crafted from a 14-karat bar of gold that is first chiseled and heated over a fire, then hammered into thin blades and twisted into a four-lobe shape.

Location: Mopti, Mali

Photographer: David Schweitzer

The Living Rooms Of Other People, The Authenticity Of Kid Creole, And At Least One Mondegreen: Thoughts From The Foolish Contender

Blogger’s note:

David Schweitzer was, among many other things, a valued presence within the fervent community that has coalesced around critic Robert Christgau’s Expert Witness blog at MSN.com. Last week, David passed away unexpectedly at the age of 44. Many of us only knew him through the witty, informed, thoughtful, and generous comments he shared with us over the past year. Since few things are more transitory than comments on message boards - by definition, meant to be superseded by follow-up comments or with the click of the ‘refresh’ button - it seemed a worthy tribute to both David and his online presence to preserve some of his thoughts from Expert Witness. Taken out of context, they do lose a bit of their effectiveness - most were intricately tied to conversations ongoing. Yet just as one can admire the wit and wordplay of the Algonquin Round Table without being privy to how those carefully calibrated remarks first surfaced, eavesdropping on David’s consistently kind yet pointed thoughts do help complete one portrait of the individual. Most of the following quotes are about music, not only because David was crazy about music but also because he chose to post at a site filled with people similarly crazy about music. He sometimes went by the handle “The Foolish Contender”. He will be missed - here and elsewhere.

On First LPs, First 45s, First CDs, and First mp3s

First LP’s: Not going to count Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, which I startled my nursery school teachers by bringing to show and tell in 1970, and which I only had because my classical & folk-loving, rock-disdaining dad was working with David Gilmour’s dad on some biochemistry research project. Not going to count the soundtrack to Hair-The Movie because it was an isolated purchase. Then there were all those Beatles (and Beatles solo) albums, mostly from garage sales and Korvette’s in Flushing when I was 10-12. So first would be Time by ELO and Computer World by Kraftwerk, the latter also the first album I bought based on a review (in the NY Times.) The ELO especially convinced me for at least 6 months (a long time when you’re 14) that singles were the better deal.

First 45’s: “The Voice” by The Moody Blues, and “Start Me Up” (still have the picture sleeve).

First CD’s: Held out until spring '91, getting through 1990 on cassettes, import vinyl and friends’ hometapes. Bought Elvis Costello’s Mighty Like a Rose and Marshall Crenshaw’s Life’s Too Short with the CD player. Two days later I wanted something really GOOD, so upgraded my Nation of Millions.

First mp3 purchhase (attempted): They Might Be Giants’ Long Tall Weekend, which emusic ended up refunding me for because my PC (or my DSL service) couldn’t handle the download.

May 14, 2011

On Mick Jagger, “Far Away Eyes,” And Conscious Primitivism

Mick Jagger doesn’t know what a hillbilly feels like and doesn’t want to, but capped by the already-cited-here “…you know what kinda eyes she got," "Far Away Eyes” is comic genius, even as written – always a hit at my friend Derek’s by-no-means-folkie hootenannies.

Totally unschooled thought about “primitivism” – does it exist without sophistication? And if only the presence of sophisticates – people who’ve gotten beyond being primitive, or being modern for that matter – makes primitivism possible as an ism, then how can anyone fault primitivists for existing? I mean, sophisticates want something to contrast against, whether they admit it or not, right? And what’s more sophisticated than consciously bucking a trend, even if the trend’s sophistication?

September 29, 2011

On Records That Were Always Playing

Two examples I recall of records that just seemed to be in the air all the time:

Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two” summer 1988

Los Hermanos Rosario “Los Duenos de Swing” summer 1995 (you had to live in a Dominican neighborhood for this one – eg. Manhattan north of 155th Street)

April 21, 2011

On Peter Brotzmann And Unpronounceable Album Titles

Anecdotal note re Peter Brotzmann. I was about 13 and looking for something on the radio I could finish a school report to (I think the report was about Mayan culture). Twisting the dial, I heard something incomprehensible and noisy. And it went on forever. And when it was over, the DJ said it was called something like “Fuck the Board,” which he repeated for good measure, which of course meant that my 13-year-old head would not remember the artist’s name. But I give myself credit for being less amazed that a DJ could say that on the radio than by the existence of that music itself, which maybe 5 years later I would learn was called free jazz. I described it to my friends and they simply didn’t believe me. Anyway, about 20 years after that I happened on an album selling for about $50 called Fuck de Boere, and figured that had to be it, especially since it was by a guy who’d been in Last Exit. Finally got a copy and…it was OK. The existence of free jazz was an amazing thing, but not that much of it have I found repays listening. But it sure opened my head when I was 13. 

WKCR, the Columbia U. station, by the way. Bet they can’t announce that title anymore.

November 4, 2011

On How Good Reviews Can Help Create Great Record Labels

John Storm Roberts’ Original Music is most likely the only case of a record company existing entirely because of a Robert Christgau review, at least according to the owner. In the notes for the Africa Dances CD, Roberts notes that the original 1973 LP sold poorly until Christgau reviewed in 1978, and that its subsequent success gave him the capital to start Original.

April 21, 2011

On The Pitchfork Aesthetic, Its Animus Towards Realism, And The Logic Of Kid Creole

I hear the “Pitchfork aesthetic” (if we wanted to break it down specifically, I guess we’d talk about its various prongs, or is that tines?) as being less about a relationship to authenticity than to realism, which is to say its proponents don’t seem to value it at all. It’s the only explanation I can find for why Pitchfork have all but ignored not just Todd Snider, who I guess might be a bit rootsy for them, but god damn it Wussy, the single finest band of the past half decade in my book. What’s worse, it seems to pervade rockcritdom on the whole, at least based on Pazz & Jop of late.

A certain sort of “unapologetic” could well be part of Pitchfork’s animus against realism (animus, there’s a word I’d never have internalized without Christgau’s writing) . I read Nathan Rooney’s Pitchfork inane review of The Moldy Peaches because Joey Daniewicz got me curious - “I should note a very big point where this crowd and the Pitchfork crowd differ: The Moldy Peaches”.

The review starts by noting (lauding?) (mocking?) Frank Zappa for, I think, promoting both the highest and lowest in popular culture, then claims Mark E. Smith, Pavement and Sonic Youth highbrow, and considers John Cage more worthy of attention than “blowjobs and buttholes.”  But even worse are “On Top,” which Rooney calls embarrassing and I which I call Adam Green at his most candid and self-aware, and “D2 Boyfriend,” in which Kimya Dawson pokes holes in any slavish devotion to bands that make it seem even sillier than it already did, which I guess would be a sore point with many Pitchfork writers. The Moldy Peaches is about as unapologetic as it gets.

And as for authenticity, don’t forget Kid Creole & the Coconuts: "I am what I am what I am 'cause I am what I am I can only play my jam I and I am what I am 'cause I am what I am.“ 

May 20, 2011

On Buddy Holly’s Career Had He Skipped His Last Flight

I’ve long conjectured that Buddy Holly would have eventually become a producer/arranger in the '60s, possibly the first independent rock producer. First alongside his performing career, later full time. His endurance would have changed The Beatles at the outset and perhaps later on. Especially since they would have gotten him to do an album.

July 15, 2011

On Returns To Form and the Post-Advertising Legacy of Gang Of Four

My fave is probably "I Party All the Time,” whose line “I am a phony” sent me to their Wikipedia bios, where I learned that Jon King is managing director of a company called “Story Worldwide”  (“We are a post-advertising agency. Story Worldwide connects brands to consumers by telling engaging stories for brands around the world”, “How do you convey the concept of unattainability?”) . In other words, given what he knows and seems to believe, approximately the very most cynical way he could earn a living. So on the surface Styrene/Gang of Four is two classic UK punks making good music in their '50s. In life, King and Styrene are dead opposites. Make of it what you will. But that would seem to be where the repentance stuff comes from.   

April 26, 2011

On Other People’s Living Rooms and Sandra Bernhardt’s “Don’t Stop Believin’" Revelation Moment

One thing I learned from Christgau long ago (and maybe he’ll disagree that he was trying to impart this lesson) was that the test is whether you can take the recording out of the context. I mean, anything can sound great if you’re having a great time. 

Or if something relieves your boredom. I’ve had many cases of what I call the Other People’s Living Room Syndrome. Your host is playing a string of uninspired music. Then on comes something better and it sounds amazing. You buy one, and at home (or wherever) it falls kinda flat. I had this experience with, among others, Wynton Marsalis and the Buena Vista Social Club.  

And then again, even stuff you really like won’t always hit you the same way each time, which is why I don’t find it interesting to create dual identities for recordings that work in very different ways in different contexts. Nor do I find surprising to hear some clever person make something out of what you thought was shit. 

Somewhat irrelevantly to this point, I’ve liked "Don’t Stop Believin’ ” since it came out when I was 14 – and if there was a revelation moment, it was when I saw Sandra Bernhardt do it in some longform video in the early '90s. But even before that, I always thought it was a lot better than the analogous “Livin’ on a Prayer” (though a friend of mine, not a Jovite by any means, has noted that it’s probably the last #1 ever to mention labor unions.)

June 11, 2011

On This Guy Vs. That Guy

In case we’re still on this:

The Guy From the Strokes > The Guy Who Sang “It Never Rains in Southern California”

June 4, 2011

On The Mekons, Including Jon Langford And Brother David

So it’s the fall of 1985, and it’s a few months before I’ll even have heard of the Mekons. I’m browsing the NYU library and I happen upon a bizarre and long book about a history of the world, 2000-3000 AD, complete with vivid photographs. It’s fascinating, and sometimes a hoot and a half. One day a couple decades later I get a notion to find it on Amazon. Takes a while because I can’t remember the title. Turns out it’s The Third Millennium: A History of the World AD: 2000-3000 co-written by one David Langford. On a hunch, I Google the guy, and whaddya know. This time I read the whole thing. It’s the imaginative social engineering stuff that I think is sci-fi’s main reason for being, and I get jokes I missed at 18. Information technology turns out to be moving a little faster than Langford had predicted by 2011. 

And in case you’re curious, by 3000 Earth is a self-sustaining post-nationalist Socialist utopia. That was decent of him.

June 17, 2011

On Florence + The Machine’s Honest To God Mondegreen

Honest-to-god mondegreen: Beseeched by a friend to listen to the whole Florence + the Machine album (about four pretty good-to-excellent tracks, when they get their Shakira-Eurythmics-Arcade Fire fusion right, or else overdo it smashingly), I heard “Strangeness and Charm” as “Strangers suck cock.” If that had been the line, there might be five good tracks on the album.

December 30, 2011

On The 'Mats And Steve Earle Double-Bills, Complete With Sly Stone Covers

I thought I’d just be adding an anecdote, but now I see that by noting that I was also at that Replacements/Steve Earle show at the Ritz I can confirm it was definitely summer '86, because I saw it with my friend Kenny, who wasn’t coming home from college for the summer by '87.  I mean, it’s unlikely they double-billed twice, right?

I don’t remember hostility towards their new material, but I do remember that the audience was quite chilly towards Earle (Kenny & I must have been among the few in the audience who had Guitar Town and thus saw it as a true double-bill). I don’t remember the DJ playing “Shook Me,” though I doubt I would have seen it as an unusual thing. I mean, the Replacements covered Kiss, right?

I do remember that after his set, Earle came down to the floor to watch the Replacements. I remember the Replacements did the “Green Acres” theme. I remembered they did “Walk This Way” (the Run-DMC version was on the charts). I remember that they broke into “Thankyou Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin,” and then stopped abruptly midway through the intro when they saw it wasn’t getting much reaction (though Kenny and I were demonstrably thrilled). Paul asked, “Any black people out there?” and shrugged.

November 10, 2011

On Fake Village Voice Consumer Guide Reviews

Consumer Guide, week of March 22, 1964.

The Beatles: Meet The Beatles!  (Capitol)

You wish you’d caught them on Sullivan (Voice readers are too hip for plate-spinners, right?), so you thought you’d try this. Well, why not – apparently they not only like but kind of understand the ‘50s stuff across the pond. But “This Boy” is pretty lifeless for a doo-wop (?) revival, and most of side two should remind us all that writing your own songs only goes so far unless you’re Chuck Berry (which I assure you they’re not) though doing showtunes is worse. They even let the lead guitarist write, and, ugh, sing; since when did I say that rock & roll should be democratic? But despite “This Boy” I played side one many times with pleasure after developing an irresistible craving for the “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/”I Saw Her Standing There” single. Docked a notch because the radio hits “She Loves You,” “Please Please Me” and “Twist and Shout” – all of which rank with the aforementioned single – are not on this album. Get on it, Capitol, while someone still cares. B

August 27, 2011

On Worst Pairings Ever

It’s official. Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain are no longer the most offensive Perry and Cain in history. 

November 10, 2011

On Ry Cooder, Plus Richard Thompson’s Lucky Break

Didn’t know the Stones invited Ry Cooder to join again in 1975, but I did hear that around that time the Eagles invited Richard Thompson to join them, presumably for his guitar work. Unimaginable. Thompson would have been a far, far richer man, but it wouldn’t have mattered because he would have had to kill himself.

September 28, 2011

On The Anxiety Of Influence And Fan Mail

Since there have been many accusations around here concerning people taking Christgau’s influence too seriously in our tastes and boasting about not doing so ourselves, etc etc, here’s a full disclosure. Once, during the two years I worked for him, I was doing some filing for him and came upon, as I recall it, a sheet of copy paper with a post-it size piece of paper taped to it, written in pencil, with the words “1969 Top Ten” at the top, presumably vintage. I only recall the top two items and can’t be sure I remember this right, but I reserve the right to employ them in helping to make my choices and will bravely face all insider-trading charges. 

P.S.  Christgau’s reply to the fan letter I wrote him in 1987 included the well-meaning words “you take me too seriously.”

February 15, 2012