Alex Abramovich

8 May 2024

Dallas Penn

The Dallas Penn I knew was always figuring out new ways to use the internet, blogging and vlogging (about Ghetto Big Macs, bodegas, baseball stadiums, sneakers) before blogging or vlogging were much of a thing, and co-hosting a pioneering hip-hop podcast, the Combat Jack Show. He’d come a long way from his stomping grounds but never forgot them or left them behind.

Read more about Dallas Penn

4 March 2024

At the Tom Verlaine Book Sale

A meme bounced around Brooklyn last summer: ‘What if we kissed at the Tom Verlaine book sale?’ Verlaine, who formed and fronted the band Television, died on 28 January 2023. Over the years he had acquired fifty thousand books.

Read more about At the Tom Verlaine Book Sale

25 October 2022

Where It All Began

Robert Johnson’s Complete Recordings came out in the summer of 1990. It sold so well that the phrase on a sticker attached to the cellophane became inextricable from Johnson’s legend: ‘This is where it all began.’ Bad history maybe, but good marketing.

Read more about Where It All Began

25 April 2022

Tune the Guitar thus

The first Siege of Sevastopol – a belated response to Russia’s first annexation of Crimea – took place in 1854-55. Tolstoy wrote about it in Sebastopol Sketches. Mark Twain referred to the battles in Innocents Abroad. Poems were written, paintings painted; eventually, movies were made. In 1856, Henry Worrall, a musician and artist, published ‘Sebastopol’, a ‘descriptive fantasie’ for the parlour guitar. ‘This piece is intended as an imitation of military music,’ he wrote. ‘The Harmonics in single notes imitate the Bugle. The Harmonics in chords imitate a Full Military Band at a distance.’ Readers were instructed to retune their instruments:

Read more about Tune the Guitar thus

24 March 2022

Yellow Submarine

Bootlegged Beatles tapes began floating around the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s, but when a group of students gathered on Red Square to celebrate May Day 1967 by dancing the Twist, Khrushchev called the militsiya out to disperse them. Only in the 1970s did the Soviet establishment grudgingly recognise rock and roll as anything more than a ‘cacophony of sounds’. Under Communism, Russian rock bands were forced into two categories: ‘official’ groups, who registered with the Ministry of Culture and were ‘urged to write and perform songs on topics such as space heroes or economic achievement’, and unrecognised ‘amateurs’ who were scorned, scolded and threatened with jail for social parasitism.

Read more about Yellow Submarine

7 March 2022

Fliers on the Metro

My father, Igor Abramovich, once told me that when he was nineteen, in 1956, he went down into Moscow’s Metro with fliers protesting against the invasion of Hungary. Seeing that Muscovites now are doing similar things, I gave him a call.

Read more about Fliers on the Metro

28 February 2022

Иди Hаxуй

‘You’re occupiers. You are fascists. Why the fuck did you come here with your guns?’ This is the widely shared video of an anonymous woman confronting Russian soldiers in Henichesk, in southern Ukraine. ‘Take these seeds and put them in your pocket so, at least, sunflowers will grow on your graves.’ That’s my loose translation of a few lines I’ve seen rendered more literally, if more obscurely (‘so at least sunflowers grow when you all lie down here’). The translators are doing an excellent job, catching almost everything, though the full range and depth of Russian obscenities – which overlap with Ukrainian obscenities – is notoriously hard to convey written down, even in the original. In the 1870s, Dostoevsky described a conversation consisting, entirely, of one ‘unprintable noun’.

Read more about Иди Hаxуй

7 January 2022

Conversations with Schrader

For years, Paul Schrader was revered for writing Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, for his other collaborations with Martin Scorsese, and for films he’d directed himself: Affliction, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper and Mishima, among others. Then, he hit a lull. Dying of the Light, a spy movie with Nicholas Cage, was taken away from Schrader and butchered in post-production. ‘These people tried to kill me,’ he said, a few years ago. ‘I fell into alcoholism, depression. I thought that was it.’ Approaching seventy, Schrader might have retired. Instead, he made his own cut of Dying of the Light from workprint DVDs. Then, as if to clear the air, he made another movie with Cage: Dog Eat Dog. Manic, violent and slightly unhinged, it looked much more like a Paul Schrader film, though the script was written by somebody else. He followed it, almost immediately, with First Reformed, casting Ethan Hawke as a pastor coming to grips with climate change and the end of the world as we know it.

Read more about Conversations with Schrader

25 August 2021

The Rolling Stone who stayed still

Charlie Watts was dignified, in a world where dignity was never valued. Gifted, musically, in a way that none of the other Stones (Mick Taylor excepted) really were.

Read more about The Rolling Stone who stayed still

28 April 2021

Rather be Humpty

Shock G was the Donald Fagen of hip hop: a piano player, most comfortable behind his instrument, thrust into the role of a front man. His birth name was Gregory Edward Jacobs, and most of his audience knew and remembered him as Humpty Hump – a sign of how uneasy he was in his skin, with even his onstage persona hidden behind other personas.

Read more about Rather be Humpty