Search Results for: Shelved

Shelved: The Lady of Rage’s Eargasm

Earl Gibson III / Getty

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | December 2018 | 11 minutes (2,118 words)


Robin Allen started writing rap lyrics in the 6th grade. By her senior year, she needed an MC name. When a classmate jokingly referred to her as the Lady of Rage, she thought the moniker good enough to tag on the wall of the high school bathroom.

A singular rapper in her own right, Rage would go on to become known as a collaborator, appearing on Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s extraordinarily successful debut albums. Her 1994 hit single “Afro Puffs” perhaps illustrates her artistic potential as much as what she was eventually able to achieve: Rage’s first solo album, Eargasm, was shelved and never completed. Named by Dre, who would have also co-written and produced it, the album would have been made at the height of the rapper’s powers and released during Death Row Records’ incredible winning streak. That Eargasm never came to fruition kept Rage’s career dependent on men — in the form of collaborators and label bosses — rather than resolutely her own.

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Shelved: Jimmy Scott’s Falling In Love Is Wonderful

Frans Schellekens/Redferns /Getty

By 1962, Ray Charles had fully crossed over. It started with his 1959 Top 10 hit “What’d I Say,” continued with the Grammy-winning “Georgia On My Mind” and “Hit the Road, Jack,” and culminated in two smash country music albums, yielding the number one single “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Proficient at bebop, fluent in country, and having practically invented soul, it seemed there was no style of popular music Ray Charles couldn’t master. Beyond his prodigious songwriting and piano playing abilities, Charles was most famously a vocal interpreter. With his newfound wealth, he founded Tangerine Records in 1962. The first thing he did was produce and release a record by one of his favorite singers, Jimmy Scott.

Jimmy Scott had been recording since the late 1940s and made several notable if unprofitable albums with Savoy Records in the 1950s. His work was almost universally loved by the most influential vocalists of the era, a group that included Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown, and Billie Holiday. Ray Charles implicitly understood the singer’s potential and believed he had the key to Scott’s elusive success.

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Shelved: The Sound of Big Star’s Self-Destruction

Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | October 2018 | 16 minutes (3,146 words)


In 1948, Columbia Records introduced the first commercial long-playing record, which revolved at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute and could hold more than 20 minutes of music per side. The older technology, 78-rpm records, couldn’t hold more than three and a half minutes per side. It was now possible to make a self-contained album.

Prior to that, the term “album” was used to describe a printed collection of short classical music pieces, such as Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words. Later, 78 records would be bound in volumes called albums, which would allow the limited medium to communicate longer orchestral works. By the same token, the books that contained family photos also became known as albums.

With the new technology, it wasn’t long before albums were used to communicate a collection of songs united by a common theme. Frank Sinatra is widely credited with releasing the first concept album, 1955’s In the Wee Small Hours. All of the songs were arranged by Nelson Riddle and were united in their themes of love, loss, and romantic dissolution.

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Shelved: Bill Evans’ Loose Blues

Bill Evans. David Redfern / Getty

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | October 2018 | 11 minutes (2,248 words)


“Loose Bloose” has a beguiling head riff. Such motifs are played at the beginning, or “head,” of a jazz or rock song. They’re typically repetitive and simple enough for musicians to remember — an arrangement kept in one’s head, not written down. Pianist Bill Evans changed that. The head riff on “Loose Bloose” is too complex to not have been notated. Played in unison and in octave harmonies on piano and tenor saxophone, it is somehow both intimate and imperious. It moves with the strange grace of a mantis. It is a part of Evans’s legacy that is without either parent or descendant.

That is partly because “Loose Bloose,” and the album with which it nearly shares a name, was shelved. Thought lost, Loose Blues remained in vaults for 20 years. It was created during a time of grief and addiction, formed from necessity and ambition, and frustrated by financial limitations. It was conceived by a man in the middle of an intensely creative period, only to be released after his death; recorded by a group of ad hoc players not fully prepared for its compositional intricacies; and produced by a man who didn’t fully believe in the project.

Recorded in two days in August 1962, Loose Blues was the product of extraordinary recording activity for a normally reticent artist, one who took almost two years to record a second solo album. “The burst really began,” remembered producer Orrin Keepnews, “when Evans surprised me by announcing that he was ready to record with his new trio; eventually it meant that he was in three different studios on a total of eight separate occasions between April and August 1962, creating four and a half albums’ worth of solo, trio, and quintet selections.”

“I don’t know how impressive that sounds to anyone else;” Keepnews wrote in the Loose Blues liner notes, “to me, who was on hand for all of it, it is still overwhelming.”

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Shelved: The Velvet Underground’s Fourth Album

The Velvet Underground at The Record Plant on May 6, 1969, during a session for VU. L to R: Doug Yule, Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, engineer Gary Kellgren. Photo by William "PoPsie" Randolph.

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | September 2018 | 18 minutes (3,669 words)


The Velvet Underground album VU is the binding agent in a career of releases that differ so dramatically one from another as to be almost artistic reversals. VU has the dark majesty of The Velvet Underground & Nico, the neurotic strut (if not the head-wrecking dissonance) of White Light/White Heat, the tenderness and emotional insight of The Velvet Underground, and the pure pop sensibility of Loaded. In its 10 tracks, it contains refined versions of what the band did well during the four years they lasted. The irony is that VU wasn’t released until more than a dozen years after the Velvet Underground disbanded.

Recorded primarily in 1969, after the ouster of multi-instrumentalist John Cale, and later cannibalized by principal songwriter Lou Reed for his solo career, the recordings that make up VU were shelved for 16 years. They stayed in the MGM vaults, mostly unmixed, until discovered during the process of reissuing the band’s catalog in the early 80s. As a result, VU benefitted from much improved audio technology and was released to a world not only better prepared for the Velvet Underground, but one that had largely absorbed its lessons. The album made a beautiful tombstone for the band’s career, at a time when all the members were alive to see it.
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Jia Tolentino Remembers the Books She Started and the Books She Shelved

Photo by tuxxilla

At final count, the manuscript was three hundred and six pages and almost seventy-eight thousand words long. There were fifteen chapters, all of which I’d edited several dozen times. In retrospect, that seems sensible—what you’d want to do, when a book was concerned—and also insane, as I don’t remember any of it. Editing is a fugue state; the time self-erases. I’d have forgotten about it altogether except for the fact that the weight of the effort has lifted only gradually, and also, the fact that the evidence is two clicks away: the evolution of an idea from nothing to something to nothing again sits peacefully in a folder named “Novel!” that I dragged off my desktop early in the fall.

At The Awl, Jia Tolentino looks back at the two novels she started but never finished, and what she learned about writing.

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Where Have All the Music Magazines Gone?

Getty / Collage by Katie Kosma

Aaron Gilbreath| Longreads | December 2018 | 25 minutes (6,357 words)

When other writers and I get together, we sometimes mourn the state of music writing. Not its quality — the music section of any good indie bookstore offers proof of its vigor — but what seems like the reduced number of publications running longer music stories. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2018: Arts and Culture

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in arts and culture.

Rebecca Schuman
Rebecca Schuman is the author of “The 90s Are Old,” ask a gen-xer, and Schadenfreude, A Love Story.

Drawing a Line in the Sand Over River Rights (Chris Colin, Outside)

Maybe it’s because I was born with an innate sense of communitarian justice. Maybe it’s because, at the age of 9, I was traumatized for several months after a cranky neighbor screamed me out of her yard when I attempted to sate my (natural, innocent, child’s) curiosity by opening her much-larger-than-usual mailbox. Maybe it’s because, as an adult, I now know that the Venn diagram of people who are really into their private property and people who really suck is basically a circle.

Whatever the reason, I found myself gasping and laughing the whole way through Chris Colin’s journey down the Russian River, as he sought to test the limits of California law against a cross-section of the trespassing-averse. It would be like John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” except “instead of whiskey,” Colin and three friends would be “fueled by a cocktail of righteousness and florid legalese.”

Yes canoes, thinks Colin, as he docks his canoe under one NO CANOES sign after the next — after all, those signs are technically illegal, since all of California’s river beaches are public up to the “ordinary high-water mark,” a fun fact I now know thanks to this piece. Sure, the fascinating confluence of property owners — aging hippies; aging California working class; new-money tech folk from San Francisco — maybe have a point about the costs of constant docking of the hoi polloi (“broken glass, poop in the bushes, and bad music blaring”). But, wonders Colin, isn’t the real answer to enforce the laws that exist, instead of expecting everyone to obey the self-created shadow laws of property owners, who have mean dogs and sometimes really good aim with golf balls?

This piece was one of the only things I read in 2018 where I both hung on every word and didn’t hate myself at the end — because it was neither vapid celebrity nonsense, nor an enraging new development in the Trump shit-show. Like a canoe trip down the Russian River itself, Colin’s tale was both beautifully escapist and a perfect microcosm of much of what ails us at this particular moment: the glorification of private property versus the preservation of the public good. Yes canoes, everyone. Yes canoes.

Dan Kois
Dan Kois edits and writes for Slate. He co-authored with Isaac Butler The World Only Spins Forward, a history of Angels in America, and is writing a book called How to Be a Family.

All 41 Broadway Theaters, Ranked (Natalie Walker, Vulture)

Do Men Enter Bathtubs on Hands and Knees So Their Balls Hit the Water Last? (Kelly Conaboy, The Cut)

I read lots of great things this year, long and important and inspiring reads about Deborah Eisenberg and cruise-ship entertainers and #MeToo. But I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge a different kind of great writing that the current internet-media economy, for all its flaws, fosters quite well: the deranged overlongread. This is the piece that, with a wildly entertaining lack of self-control, goes way too deep into a question of perhaps questionable impact, taking advantage of the author’s expertise or tireless interest in the subject. It’s a chance for a writer to completely lose her sense of perspective and launch into the kind of writing project that no editor would say yes to in the abstract but which no good editor can say no to once she’s read it. My two favorite examples this year were both published on Natalie Walker’s exhaustive ranking of all 41 Broadway theaters on Vulture is nearly 5,000 words long, but is so densely packed both with jokes and with absurdly detailed knowledge that it never stops being delightful to read. And in a piece on The Cut that is pegged to nothing, absurd on its face, inspired by a BabyCenter message board post, 2,500 words long, and festooned with amateurish drawings, Kelly Conaboy interviews, at my count, 15 different men to answer, once and for all, the question, “Do Men Enter the Bathtub on Their Hands and Knees So Their Balls Hit the Water Last?” It’s the kind of investigation that the internet was made for.

Tom Maxwell
Tom Maxwell is a writer, musician, and author of the Longreads series, “Shelved.”

The Untold Stories of Paul McCartney (Chris Heath, GQ)

In Praise of ‘Good As Hell,’ The Song That Believes In You Even When You Don’t (Hanif Abdurraqib, NPR)

I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life (Heather Havrilesky, The Cut)

I have three pieces for you to read at this closing of the year. They all trade in perception and value.

The first is Chris Heath’s lengthy interview with Paul McCartney for GQ. “The Untold Stories of Paul McCartney” is a litany of the rock legend’s “less manicured” anecdotes — including the as-yet unshared John Lennon circle jerk story. Mostly it’s about a man, largely responsible for redefining popular culture, slowly revealing himself as a bit of a weirdo.

Next is a piece of luminous writing by Hanif Abdurraqib for NPR’s “American Anthem” series. “In Praise of ‘Good As Hell,’ The Song That Believes In You Even When You Don’t” is a flat-out pleasurable read. “Without erasing the unique specifics of the song’s message,” Abdurraqib writes, “there is another message rattling below: Anyone who desires wings can go out and get them.”

Lastly, I commend to you “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life,” by Heather Havrilesky in her “Ask Polly” column in The Cut. This to me is pure culture — the culture of perceived value and conferred worth. The piece is in response to a 35-year-old woman who feels as if her picaresque life has been wasted. “Learn to treat yourself the way a loving older parent would,” Havrilesky counsels. “Tell yourself: This reckoning serves a purpose. Your traveling served a purpose. Your moving served a purpose. You’re sitting on a pile of gold that you earned through your own hard work, you just can’t see it yet. You can’t see it because you’re blinded by your shame.” Read this and be refreshed.

Justin Heckert
Justin Heckert is a writer living in Charleston, South Carolina.

‘That had to hurt.’ Lessons learned on the diving board in summer’s final days. (Taylor Telford, The Washington Post)

The diving board in this story is ominous, a tongue. The swimming pool below it “a churning ecosystem of youth.” We are dropped into the summer glow, in with the sunbathers and the divers and the lifeguard, and get to spend a few unforgettable moments inside this day with them, as readers — a world rendered in the third dimension by the sights and sounds and in the movements captured by Taylor Telford. The water dripping off shiny skin, the concrete blazing, people hopping back and forth so their feet don’t burn. This story is wonderful, from the lede to the end, and though it’s a short story that reads like a more ambitious one, it never commits the sin of boring writing: it’s always entertaining, and it demands to be read all the way through. I marvel at the little observations and how she uses them, at what it took to write this and how many people there she must’ve interviewed to make it feel like she didn’t need to interview a soul. That she must’ve stared at people’s faces, toes, hands, the concrete of the pool itself, the counting of steps, the height of the board, the shadows and the sun, the way people were positioned and how they were talking to one another, a great reminder of the type of observation required for this kind of work, and how fun and vivid nonfiction can be.

Anne Thériault
Anne Thériault is a Toronto-based feminist killjoy. She is currently raising one child and three unruly cats. If she has a looming deadline, you can find her procrastinating on Twitter @anne_theriault.

Living With Slenderman (Kathleen Hale, Hazlitt)

I’m one of those cynical pedants who feels especially exasperated by click-baity social media posts that swear that whatever they’re linking to is the best thing you’ll read all year. More often than is probably (definitely) healthy for me, I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “it’s April, my friend, and this year has eight whole months left in it!” So it’s probably poetic justice that the piece that wound up being my favourite long-form essay of the year was published way back in January.

I can’t remember how I first stumbled across Kathleen Hale’s “Living With Slenderman.” I’m sure I opened it because I thought it was going to be a lurid read that scratched my true crime itch. Instead, it was a complex narrative about childhood, mental illness, and the carceral system. In her essay, Hale tells the story of Morgan Geyser who, when she was 12, acted with her friend Anissa to try to kill their classmate Bella. The case has generated many sensationalist headlines, especially since the defendants claimed that they had hurt their friend in an effort to appease the internet bogeyman “Slenderman;” many people believed that Morgan and Anissa should serve a maximum prison sentence for such a senseless, horrifying crime. But Hale neatly lays out all the details — from Geyser’s early hallucinations and delusions, to her diagnosis of early-onset schizophrenia, to explanations of why American children can be tried as adults in the courts — in a way that’s both engaging and deeply unsettling.

I came to this essay because I wanted some kind of voyeuristic thrill over something I didn’t really know about and certainly didn’t understand. I keep coming back to this essay because of the layered truths it tells: that stigma against mental illness can be deadly; that revenge is not a recipe for justice; that prisons chew up and spit out literal children and not many people seem very bothered by that fact. I can’t stop re-reading it and don’t imagine that I will be able to any time soon.

Seyward Darby
Editor in Chief, The Atavist.

For One Last Night, Make It a Blockbuster Night (Justin Heckert, The Ringer)

I didn’t know I needed a gorgeously written feature about Blockbuster nostalgia until this one popped up on my newsfeed. Turns out, I really needed it. All movie-lovers probably needed it. Certainly, all kids from small towns who once combed the store’s white shelves each weekend needed it. Justin Heckert’s superb story for The Ringer about one of the last Blockbusters in Alaska — where the once-hegemonic rental chain went to die — is an elegy for a distinctly 20th century way of consuming culture. Transactional, tactile, conversational, illuminating, and relatable. Rooted in real places, yet also in our imaginations. Situated at the intersection of the fantastic and the mundane. Like my favorite movies, I could rewind this story and read it again, and again, and again.

* * *

Read all the categories in our Best of 2018 year-end collection.

Hellhound on the Money Trail

AP Photo/Justin M. Norton

Robert Gordon | Memphis Rent Party | Bloomsbury | March 2018 | 32 minutes (6,304 words)


This story first appeared in LA Weekly in 1991.

* * *

The sun did not shine, but it was hot as hell the day a memorial stone was unveiled for bluesman Robert Johnson near a country crossroads outside Greenwood, Mississippi. About seventy-five people filled the tiny Mt. Zion church, a row of broadcast video cameras behind the back pew and a bank of lights illuminating a hoarse preacher as he praised a man who reputedly sold his soul to the devil.

There was no finality in setting the stone. The attention came fifty years too late, and even if his memory is more alive today than ever before, Johnson’s rightful heirs still have nothing but the name. This service was not about the body of the bluesman, which lies in an unmarked grave somewhere in the vicinity; it was about the guitar-shaped wreath provided by Johnson’s current record label, and about the video bite that would be beamed into homes around the country that April 1991 evening.

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Remembering Singer Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson autographing fans' photographs at Los Angeles High School,1967. AP Photo

Listening to Nancy Wilson’s “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” over a half century after she recorded it is like taking a master class in voice control and phrasing. She incorporates Eartha Kitt’s tart enunciation and Dinah Washington’s melodic upticks in the verse. By the 22-second mark Wilson is stretching out the word “you” into its own little story of restrained passion in a way few singers can. This is Ella Fitzgerald-level breath control. When Wilson effortlessly leaps up the arpeggiated steps of “and you don’t know you don’t know you don’t know…how glad I am” in her first chorus, it’s a marvel of clarity and precision.

Nancy Wilson died on December 13, after an extended illness. She was 81.

Released in the summer of 1964, “How Glad I Am” broke the Top 20 and earned her a Grammy. Wilson, then five years into her recording career, already considered herself a pop artist. “People labelled me as jazz,” she said at the time. “I don’t like that designation. I want to be able to reach everybody, not just the jazz crowd.”

Although never quite able to dodge the label of jazz thrush, Wilson considered herself “a song stylist,” as she told The Washington Post. “That’s my essence,” she explained, “to weave words, to be dramatic.” Regardless, Time magazine once called her Ella Fitzgerald’s heir apparent. “At her opening at Los Angeles’ Coconut Grove last week,” they wrote in 1964, “the crowd of 1,000 voted her everything but the deed and title to the place.”

When she was 15, Wilson had her own television show called Skyline Melodies in Columbus, Ohio, singing pop tunes by request. She later played night clubs in the Bronx and Chicago, but it was venues like the Coconut Grove that encouraged Wilson to up her game. “Now I have to really entertain,” she told Music Business in 1964. “You can’t just get up there and be soulful in clubs like these. They expect a show and you’ve got to give them one. But this is something new and fresh and exciting for me. Even if I’m tired it doesn’t get me bugged.”

It’s a perfectly American thing to delineate forms of musical expression, assigning them to differing demographics for both performer and audience. The word ‘blues’ was tacked onto the end of many of what were called “race record” titles in the 1920s to serve more as a racial signifier than song description. Jazz, initially a product of black subculture, became the pop music of the 1930s and ’40s once accepted into the white American mainstream. Rock ‘n’ roll helped transform American teenagers into a lucrative consumer group in the 1950s, just as it signified that whites had started making and consuming black music.

These race and genre-based boundaries eventually dissolved. Producer Norman Granz asked jazz icons Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald to record an album of mostly white show tunes in 1956, to astounding success. Black entertainers like Nat Cole and Johnny Mathis soon gained access to mainstream stardom without the old restrictive labels.

Wilson came to prominence at a time when jazz, blues, and pop had become intertwined in the public consciousness, allowing her to move farther down the path blazed by her hero Jimmy Scott. Thus she was able to make jazz records with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, slow burners like “Our Day Will Come,” and standards. “The Very Thought of You” was recorded by Billie Holiday years before, but Wilson’s early ’60s reading is more intimate and engaged. She stands perfectly poised between the earlier era of vocalists like Lena Horne and Anita Baker, and those — like Natalie Cole and Nnenna Freelon — whom she would inspire.

“In the ‘great tradition’ of blues, torch and jazz singers that began with Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson leans toward the left wing, where pop meets jazz, a translator of popular standards into the jazz idiom,” Time wrote. “Her repertory is a treatise on variety and taste, spun by a voice of agile grace and knowing jazz inflection and phrasing.”

By the mid 1960s, Wilson was behind only the Beatles as Capitol Records’ best-selling artist, outselling Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Her short-lived NBC program The Nancy Wilson Show earned an Emmy.

Wilson scored another hit in the late ’60s with “Face It Girl, It’s Over,” then embarked on a second career of ubiquitous television guest appearances. She again expanded her audience in the late ’70s with funky tracks like “Sunshine.”

By the end of the 1990s Wilson had issued more than ’60 albums and gathered up awards from the NEA, Urban League, Playboy, and the NAACP. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was recognized for her work in the Civil Rights Movement by the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.

Successful before she was famous, and beloved until her death, Wilson stands almost alone in career consistency. Now we’re left with what Time called her “treatise on variety and taste.” The best tribute we can pay is some close listening.


Tom Maxwell is a writer and musician. He likes how one informs the other.

Editor: Aaron Gilbreath; Fact-checker: Ethan Chiel