By now, anyone who’s interested in David Bowie has probably heard his new record, The Next Day. It's been streaming on iTunes for nearly two weeks, and most of the major music publications and websites have already reviewed it. If you’ve heard The Next Day, you’ve probably judged it (without consciously trying) against your perceptions of Bowie’s overall legacy. This is partly because The Next Day is Bowie’s first batch of new songs since (in order of significance) his 2004 heart attack during a concert in Germany, his withdrawal from public life, and 2003’s Reality. It’s also because of how The Next Day is constructed: Like basically every other artist (no matter the discipline) of his age and stature, Bowie’s primary influence at this point is himself. So, whether The Next Day is a success will depend on how much David Bowie still sounds like David Bowie at 66.
Almost exactly two years ago, comedian Chris Gethard got his big shot. After a decade of working in the trenches at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, watching brigades and fleets and battalions of his friends go on to become SNL/Daily Show/NBC-Thursday-Night soldiers, he landed the lead role in Comedy Central's Big Lake. Co-starring Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell and co-produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, it was the network's attempt to get into the Tyler Perry model of quickie syndication (Charlie Sheen's Anger Management is currently on the same path). If the show had been renewed after its initial 10-episode run, it would have been picked up for an additional 90 — which, according to Gethard, would have netted him an instant $2.2 million. Making things even nuttier: Gethard got the part real late in the game, after original star Jon Heder had dropped out, and so didn't have much time to mentally transfer from "broke guy living in Queens apartment without working shower" to "sitcom star." Meanwhile, the media attention around the show centered on the unlikely tale of Gethard's late-breaking success. And then, of course, the show failed. Big Lake wasn't picked up, and sank ignominiously into the trash heap of canceled crappy sitcoms.
But here's the feel-good part. Afterward, Gethard brushed himself off, went back to New York, went back to doing his thing. And today, IFC announced they're in business with Gethard. The network has ordered a pilot script for a show based on Gethard's recent memoir, A Bad Idea I’m About to Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgment and Stunningly Awkward Adventure. You can't hold Chris Gethard down! You can't do it! Don't even try!
Back in the fall of 2009, about half a year after she dropped her excellent second album, It's Not Me, It's You, hilarious British loudmouth Lily Allen announced she was quitting music. At the time she'd been campaigning against music piracy, but not, she explained, for herself: "Just so you know, I have not renegotiated my record contract and have no plans to make another record. I do however remain a fan of new music, so this is not some selfish crusade. The days of me making money from recording music have been and gone as far as I'm concerned." Her last performance came a year later, opening for Muse at Wembley, but she stayed in the news, opening a clothing store here, founding a record label there. After the difficult news of two miscarriages, she gave birth in the fall to her first child with husband Sam Cooper, and some of us assumed maybe we'd never hear from her again.
The genre of "rhythm and blues" has been experiencing a major identity crisis over the past few years, but when you dig deeper it becomes clear the uncertainty surrounding this style of music is anything but new. A very jarring, but clear, way to see this is by way of the names that Billboard has assigned to this at-times-vague genre. While it is currently called the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (and has been titled some variation of that since 1999), the list has gone through a series of names since its origin in 1942. A few:
The Harlem Hit Parade Race Records Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles Hot Soul Singles Hot Black Singles Hot R&B Singles
These titles not only show how racially aligned the genre has been over the years, but also the various styles of music that this "urban" (don't get me started on this word, not now) medium has taken on.