Five Big 2011 Music-News Stories

Five big 2011 music-news stories

We at would like to bid a fond farewell to the year 2011, as we look with hope to the New Year.

Every year is a mixture of good and bad, of victory and despair, in music as in every other human endeavor. Here are five stories that especially caught our attention. Since they’re listed in no particular order, chronological or otherwise, this will be a “bullet point” list rather than an enumeration.

  • Something that will fascinate those of us ‘of a certain age,’ — The Beach Boys have announced a reunion tour. It will kick off this coming April at the New Orleans Jazz Fest.
    It has been half a century now since the Beach Boys released their first album, “Surfin’ Safari”in 1962. Surfin’ Safari remains a classic. Its tracks included the title song, as well as “409,” (which was the flip side when “Surfin’ Safari” was released as a single) and “Summertime Blues,” which has remained in the pop-culture consciousness as a sort of whiny-teen anthem.
    I won’t try to summarize the Beach Boys! Career! I’d rather take a vacation, or even “take my problem[s] to the United Nations!” In lieu of any UN ruling in my favor, though, I’ll leave the subject by pasting here a photo of a Rickenbacker 360 12-string guitar, the type favored by Carl Wilson when the Beach Boys got their start.


  • Mindy McCready, the country music star pictured at the top of this entry, has found herself in the middle of a very high-profile child custody fight.
    Mindy first made a splash – in a good way – in 1996, with her double-platinum debut album, “Ten Thousand Angels.”One reviewer, on the strength of this album, called McCready a “welcome – and unusual – Nashville newcomer.”She has recorded several albums since: If I Don’t Stay the Night (1997); I’m Not So Tough (1999); Mindy McCready (2002); and I’m Still Here(2010).
    That last album was billed as a comeback effort not just because, as its title suggests, eight years is a long time between issues, but because a good deal of not-so-good stuff had happened to McCready between 2002 and 2010, including several arrests: for the illicit acquisition of a painkiller, for drunken driving, for identity theft, and for violations of the terms of her probation.The critics were not enthusiastic about “I’m Still Here” They recognized that McCready’s talents as a vocalist remain intact, but complained about the “hodgepodge” of songs.
    By December 2011, she was fighting a court battle to regain custody of her son, Zander from her own mother. It is still unclear as I write these words whether Zander will end up with his mother, his grandmother, or with foster parents in Arkansas.We wish Mindy the best and, of course, we hope the courts display Solomon’s wisdom in pursuing the best interests of five-year-old Zander.


  • On the business side of the music business, perhaps the biggest item of 2011 was the ability of a music file-sharing service, Grooveshark, to pick up support from major corporate advertisers.
    Grooveshark had its beginnings in 2006, in rather a stereotypical way. It was one of those ‘we’ll run it out of our dorm room’ internet collaborations. This one involved three undergrads at the University of Florida.
    It wasn’t until January 2010 that the operation was important enough or visible enough to draw the expected lawsuit from a major label. Universal Music Group sued them for copyright infringement that month.In August 2010, Apple pulled the Grooveshark app from its iPhones, presumably in response to UMG complaints.
    But in 2011, Grooveshark proved that it can swim with the … well … the sharks. It has been fighting back and at year’s end it seems likely to avoid the fate of Napster and other file-sharing pioneers.


  • A weightier matter: a rising star in the rap music world, Slim Dunkin, whose real name was Vinson Hamilton, was shot and killed while en route to a video shot.
    Slim had been described in glowing terms by, the rap oriented website, in February. AllHipHop credited him with “a unique lyrical ability and style all his own.”
    An ability and style now silenced: ask not for whom the bell tolls.



  • Going back to early this year, February, the Boston Lyric Opera staged a rarely-seen but historically important work, “Emperor of Atlantis.”This opera was composed by Viktor Ullman for a libretto by Petr Kien, when both were interned in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943. Its plot has a Death-takes-a-holiday theme. But it is more of a strike than a holiday. A mad Emperor of Atlantis declares war on the whole planet. Death is outraged by the soulless mechanization of the war the Emperor has in mind, and he refuses to cooperate. But the grim consequence of his strike is that the injured of the war suffer prolonged agonies, aching for a Death who will not come.
    Ullman and Kien were both among many Jews shipped from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz on October 16, 1944 and killed there.The Boston Lyric Opera’s performance of their work has been well received. Critic Bryce Lambert acknowledged that the BLO had “working to produce the opera under its own merits,” not as a commentary on the Holocaust but as an opera. Yet he added that it is “incredibly difficult” for viewers and listeners to day to ignore the historical content.Another reviewer, Lloyd Schwartz, credited Ullman with “edgy jazz-band orchestrations” and praised the BLO and music director Steven Lipsitt for bringing it all “to vibrant life.”

I began this list with the idea that I would impose no particular order upon these events, I would leave each of these five stories to speak for itself. But an order does seem to have emerged. For as I’ve fiddled with their arrangement, I’ve ended up placing these five items in sequence from the trivial and gossipy at the start to the sober, indeed the fatally serious, at the end.

Thus, we end with the story of a musical response to organized mass murder. Let the year 2011 be remembered for resurrecting Emperor of Atlantis. It could do far worse. Here’s a clip:

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