Category Archives: Diatribes

Opinion pieces exploring the political, metaphysical, or hypocritical.

Remove Duplicates, Fix Broken Album Art in iCloud Music Library

Apple Music + iCloud Music Library is a brilliant pairing, and finally lets us access our personal music collections from anywhere. But it’s not without its warts – duplicated tracks and bad/missing cover art has been a sore spot for iCloud Music Library users since the service launched. In my first piece for, I walk readers through the reasons – and the fixes – for those two problems.


Vel’ d’Hiv: Springtime for Hitler (and Bicycles)

A few weeks ago, I started pulling together a bicycle-themed playlist. I’d hoped it would motivate me to train for a late-April metric century bike ride in Chico, California, which due to some feat of bike snobbery or hippie irony is known as the Mildflower.

The ride was terrific. Unfortunately, my playlist never got past a zippy little Yves Montand number called “Vel’ d’Hiv.” The song is named after a Parisian sports stadium, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, used for indoor bicycle track racing until its demolition in 1959. Just to prove they were really in Paris, the stadium’s final night featured Salvador Dali exploding a miniature Eiffel Tower.

“Vel’ d’Hiv,” while not as well-known as Montand’s “A Bicyclette,” is a fine little bike song. But my bicycle playlist ground to a halt when I found out Montand recorded the song in May 1948. That’s less than six years after the same bicycle stadium was the site of one of the most horrifying episodes in French history, the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup. On July 16 and 17, 1942, French police arrested more than 13,000 Jewish men, women and children. Most of those arrested were held in the Vélodrome d’Hiver. The victims remained there for five days with no open bathrooms and almost no food or water. Then it got much worse. Under orders of the Vichy government, the detainees were handed over to the Nazis, who sent them to their demise at Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

Long-hidden details of the roundup are featured in a recent novel and film, Sarah’s Key, and a moving documentary, La Rafle. The Vichy government’s secretary-general of the police, René Bousquet, personally refused to spare children from the roundup. He managed to avoid major legal consequences after the war, and later became a friend and financial supporter of a prominent French politician. Someone from the LePen family, perhaps? Surprise, it was actually Francois Mitterand.

Back to music: a fascinating site called Music and the Holocaust has an intriguing section on the “double life” of jazz during Vichy France. Performers often used “Frenchified” American titles and substituted French names for those of American composers (Louis Armstrong’s songs, for example, were attributed to Jean Sablon). This dubious makeover, which seemed to bring jazz closer to French nationalism, may also have helped keep the music alive and under the political radar during the war.

Others couldn’t conceal themselves so easily. It took a “miracle” for Gypsy innovator Django Reinhart to survive the war. He actually was captured, and escaped only because the commander happened to be a fan.

Yves Montand, “Vel’ d’Hiv”

Some Nice Happy Thoughts About the Joy Division Revival

One of the most awkward dates of my life ended when I played Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures for someone whose favorite singer was Billy Joel. Since then, that album has killed more romantic moods than any of my other favorites. Martin Hannett’s creepy production evokes Phil Spector’s wall of sound as if rendered by Spector the convicted murderer. Lead singer Ian Curtis’ relentless sadness was arguably more intense than any of his punk contemporaries’ anger.

Joy Division remains the foundation of Manchester’s Factory Records sound, featured in the fascinating movie 24-Hour Party People and a more serious biopic, Control. Overcome by epilepsy and a bizarre love triangle, Curtis committed suicide just before the band’s planned world tour. The surviving members formed New Order, an equally influential band that was hardly chipper by any normal standard (“Love Vigilantes,” for example, basically retells the Top Forty war weeper “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” from the perspective of the dead guy). But compared to Joy Division’s intensity, New Order might as well have been Kajagoogoo or Wang Chung.

Earlier this month, I got my first chance to see Unknown Pleasures performed live, in a Los Angeles show featuring Joy Division and New Order’s former bassist and backup singer, Peter Hook, and his new band, the Light. I could quibble about the Light’s performance. Hook’s vocals were decent, but sometimes sounded like he was leading cheers for Manchester United. Guest singer Moby looked enthusiastic, but came off a bit like last century’s lightbulb. Still, the band was good enough to revive the majesty of these songs (and make me feel as if that bad date had never ended).

To perk myself up after the show, I scarfed too many shots of espresso and jotted down a few mildly happy thoughts about the Joy Division revival:

1. Their Disease is Still Better than the Cure

It’s easy to smirk at Joy Division for inspiring future mopeheads to whine into their microphones. Interpol and scores of other less catchy Joy Division-inspired bands have certainly overdone the emoting. But Joy Division also deserves better than to be known only as the emirs of emo and designer doom. As Robert Christgau has noted, Joy Division struggled against depression, rather than wearing it like a designer suit. Joy Division has inspired legions of misfits–among them Bono, Kurt Cobain, Thom Yorke, Morrisey, and even Robert Smith–to reach great, if sometimes grandiose heights. And the band’s taut riffs, fusing punk velocity to Can’s minimalism, sometimes have a life of their own.

Joy Division, “She’s Lost Control”

2. The Muppets Never Covered Any Joy Division Songs

Okay, go ahead and snicker. But a 2009 piece on the Topless Robot blog, The 7 Most Depressing Songs Ever Sung By a Muppet, refers to Kermit and Rowlf’s duet on “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along” as “pretty much the pre-schooler equivalent of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.” And here’s the really depressing thing: this song only rates as Number Six on the list of the most depressing Muppet songs. The winner is a Fraggle funeral dirge, which we won’t post here because we care about our readers.

Muppets, “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along”

3. They Didn’t Write the Most Depressing Song of All Time

Many have cited Joy Division’s final single, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” as the most depressing song ever. It’s a remarkable song, whose first passage captures in a few bars the end of one era and the beginning of another. But I can’t rate it the gloomiest. The music has too much energy. I keep thinking of it as half of a medley with “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and wondering how Toni Tenille would sing it. There are stacks of of George Jones, Leonard Cohen, Son House and Tom Waits songs I consider more depressing, but lists like this have to get personal. My selections follow in the next post.

Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

Neil Sedaka, “Love Will Keep Us Together”

Susana Baca, the Golden-Voiced Government Bureaucrat

Remember George Clinton’s fantasy verse in Parliament’s “Chocolate City,” imagining a future government in which Stevie Wonder holds a cabinet post, Secretary of Fine Arts? We’re probably lucky Clinton never got his wish to have Richard Pryor serve as Secretary of Education. But something like his basic idea occurred in Peru this summer. President-elect Ollanta Humala chose one of my favorite singers, Susana Baca, as the new Minister of Culture. The New York Times reports that she will be the first minister of African ancestry to serve in the Peruvian parliament.

Susana Baca’s smoldering and gorgeous version of “Maria Lando,” written by her mentor Chabuca Granda, is the standout track on David Byrne’s uniformly excellent 1995 compilation, The Soul of Black Peru, and also appears on one of her solo albums. Since “Maria Lando” is a heartfelt ode a woman who works hard for the money, I’ve sometimes put it on playlists that also include Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” But the ache in Baca’s voice is so intense that it makes the protagonist sound like her hours are 9 AM to 5 AM.

Baca is actually highly qualified for her new post, as an adept music historian and the co-founder of a cultural organization, the Instituto Negrocontinuo. The appointment comes just in time to promote Baca’s new album, Afrodiaspora, which takes her out of her traditional ballad comfort zone and on a journey to survey the threads of African influences in all the Americas (with a brief stop in Spain as well).

If this sounds like one of those sentimental, grooveless world music projects that drowns in self-importance, it isn’t. When the minister wants to get out of the office, she knows how to throw a good party. Afrodiaspora includes suitably moving (in both senses) tributes to Mexican singer Amparo Ochoa and Cuban salsa icon Celia Cruz. But Baca also ventures in more unexpected directions. She drastically reinterprets the Meters’ classic New Orleans funk strut “Hey Pocky Way.” Things get even sweatier on “Plena y Bomba,” a collaboration with Puerto Rico’s Calle 13 and its often-shirtless leader/MC, René Pérez Joglar (AKA Residente). Baca also sang on Calle 13’s “Latinoamerica” last year. Although 2011 is far from over, I’ll predict now that Afrodiaspora will win the award for Best Nontraditional Latin Album by a Credentialed Burecaucrat.

Susana Baca, “Maria Lando”

Susana Baca (with Calle 13), “Plena y Bomba”

Robert Christgau: Dean of Rock Critics, King of Beers

Over at WFMU’s excellent Beware of the Blog music site, Canadian writer Brian Joseph Davis has penned a hilarious music review parody, the Ultimate Negative Christgau Review. Davis is no stranger to outrageous satire. His own music-obsessed rant, Portable Altamont, reimagines Don Knotts as a Buddhist philosopher and Margaret Atwood as a gangsta as it delivers delicate epigrams (Sample: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Kid Rock was to remember the distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”)

None of Davis’ earlier work, though, prepared me for his epic spoof of Christgau, whose peerless (and sometimes inscrutable) Consumer Guide recently transformed into a blog, Expert Witness. Davis’ spoof culls negative phrases from more than 13,000 Christgau reviews into a single composite pan. Here are some teasers:

A born liar, showing all the imagination of an ATM in the process, a certain petty honesty and jerk-off humor, a man without a context, a pompous, overfed con artist, a preening panderer, mythologizing his rockin’ ‘50s with all the ignorant cynicism of a punk poser, a propulsive flagwaver attached to UNESCO lyrics about people all over the world joining hands, a simpleton, but also a genuine weirdo, a spoiled stud past his prime, so that while he was always sexy he wasn’t always seductive, a stinker, from Jesus-rock to studio jollity, a tedious ideologue with a hustle, a tough talker diddles teenpop’s love button. Act authentic for too long and it begins to sound like an act even if it isn’t.

Air-kiss soul, alienated patriotic, all clotted surrealism and Geddy Lee theatrics, all form and no conviction, except for the conviction that form is everything. All he proves is that when you dwell on suffering you get pompous. An archetypal indie whiner.

Christgau’s prose, dense with cross-cultural allusions and insider jokes, is ripe for this sort of roasting. He has self-confessed biases (against salsa, metal and prog, and for almost anything African-sounding) and puzzling sources of inspiration (this means you, Black Eyed Peas). Far too cerebral to be considered a gonzo journalist, he’s impassioned and impulsive enough enough to have thrown pie at one of his generation’s finest essayists, former girlfriend Ellen Willis. Christgau only started liking Sonic Youth after they threatened him in a song. When Lou Reed slandered Christgau on a live album, Christgau thanked him for pronouncing his name correctly.

Yet Christgau is one of only three music writers whose work has moved me as much as my favorite fiction authors (the other two are Amiri Baraka, who wrote far less about music, and Lester Bangs, who wrote with more heart but far less consistency). And I admire that after four decades of nonstop listening and writing, he has an insatiable appetite for new sounds and a disdain for sacred cows. I like Radiohead, but won’t forget his take on Kid A: “Alienated masterpiece nothing–it’s dinner music. More claret?” When classic rock still ruled the airwaves, Christgau had this pithy take on Prince’s Dirty Mind: “Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home.”

Excerpt from “Robert Christgau: “Rock and Roll Animal” (1999)
(Music: Modern Lovers, “Government Center”)

Just as I was absorbing Davis’ Christagu parody, I discovered that Christgau and his wife, writer Carola Dibble, penned a Consumer Guide to Beer that is almost as funny. Written in the mid-seventies, before the advent of alt-beer and the heyday of Michael Jackson (the Dean of American beer critics, not the singer), the piece is surprisingly sympathetic to flavored-water American macrobrews such as Coors and Budweiser, with nary a reference to obscure Belgian monks.

Still, I love how the Christgaus start with a pedantic lesson on the history of grain fermentation since 6000 B.C. They review San Francisco’s Anchor Steam as if it were a bottled version of the Grateful Dead (“Our bohemian friends found it winy, but we found it one more instance of San Francisco’s chronic confusion of eccentricity with quality”), and describe the Krautrock-worthy Beck’s as if it were a bottle of Can (“This beer is so overbearing that bad-mouthing it seems risky”). As George Clinton would say, can you get to that?

Funkadelic, “Can You Get to That?”

Too Much Joy, “King of Beers”

Songs for the Cheesehead Intifada

2011 will be remembered as a perilous and fascinating time. Thousands of protesters filled city streets, unwilling to tolerate assaults on their basic rights. Their out-of-touch head of state was even caught joking about clubbing dissenters. Is this Cairo or Tripoli? No, it’s mild-mannered Madison, Wisconsin.

Comparisons between Mideast and Midwest have obvious limits. Jon Stewart was only partly kidding when he claimed the real danger for Madison protesters was that they risked getting caught in a drum circle. Still, Wisconsin has had its own bumpy ride. For years, Wisconsin remained under the autocratic rule of strongman Brett Favre. The triumphs that followed his departure soon crossed paths with reactionary forces. But those days may be numbered. When Governor Scott Walker recently insisted upon removing public employees’ collective bargaining rights, he enraged leaders of the one institution in Wisconsin more revered than even the Lutheran Church: the world champion Green Bay Packers.

What does this have to do with music? Plenty. Even as Wisconsin returns to the forefront of progressive protest, pundits on both coasts tend to push it to the cultural margins. Ask about the “Wisconsin sound,” and some will think of aging brewers and dairy farmers singing to the cows between Chicago and Minneapolis, and the bored kids trying hard to avoid them. I could walk through the stereotypes, but Cheeseheads With Attitude have already done the job. And don’t call them losers.

In these troubled times, Wisconsin needs and deserves a more compelling soundtrack. To fill this void, I’ve prepared my own Wisconsin-centered playlist.

Violent Femmes, Kiss Off
Robin and the Three Hoods, That’s Tuff
Clyde Stubblefield, Funky Drummer
Hubert Sumlin, Down the Dusty Road
Goose Island Ramblers, No Norwegians in Dickeyville
Spanic Boys, Keep on Walking
Woody Herman, Goosey Gander
Chi Coltrane, Thunder and Lightning
Mustard Men, I Lost My Baby Now
Die Kreuzen, Man in the Trees
Oil Tasters, Get Out of the Bathroom
Les Paul, Vaya Con Dios
Bodeans, Fadeaway
Bunky Green, Step High
Richard Davis, Oh My God
Cedarwell, Weirdest Places
Bon Iver, For Emma

For those expecting seas of cheese, the talent of those associated with the Badger State might surprise you. The old-school hall of fame includes the Wizard of Waukesha, guitar innovator Les Paul, as well as longtime Milwaukee resident Hubert Sumlin, who earned his reputation as Howlin’ Wolf‘s guitarist. The incomparable bass work of Madison’s coolest professor, Richard Davis, graces two of my all-time favorite albums, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch.

“Wisconsin” and “funk” aren’t words often heard together. But the mastermind behind the most influential breakbeat has also lived in Madison for decades. That man,Clyde Stubblefield, is the funky drummer behind James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” whose heavily sampled signature riff is a cornerstone of hip-hop and funk. Tap the rhythm and enjoy the nonstop dancing in your head.

I’d better stop this regional rant before it starts sounding like Sufjan Stevens’ next concept album. But in this age of bearded bards in alternative rock, Wisconsin has two of the best. The best known is Bon Iver, whose heralded For Emma, Forever Ago emerged from singer Justin Vernon’s blustery retreat in a Wisconsin cabin. Thankfully, rather than turning into the Unabomber, Vernon produced an album that slowly smolders with surprising strength. More recently, I’ve been listening to Cedarwell, whose excellent 2010 album A Stone, A Leaf, A Door draws its title from one of my favorite novels, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel. Both the music and leader Eric Neave’s facial hair make me think of Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam. And as an added bonus, Neave has spent some quality time with Lars from Balcony TV.

The musical heritage of Wisconsin’s European immigrants is also far from the single vanilla flavor some might expect. James Leary’s book Polkabilly: How the Goose Island Ramblers Redefined American Folk Music provides a fascinating look at this largely unheard music of the upper Midwest. Leary provides a great account of how a Goose Island Ramblers performance baffled a panel of experts on traditional regional music:

Here were three men from South Central Wisconsin, togged out variously in Cowboy hats and Viking horns, playing a shifting array of instruments (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, eight string fiddle, one string electric toilet plunger, harmonica, Jew’s harp, jug, piano, accordion, and bandionion), singing in Norwegian, German, Polish, English, and “broken English,” while playing a repertoire that shuffled, bent and fused British and Irish fiddle tunes, ballads, and sentimental songs with Hawaiian marches, Swiss yodels, and the polkas, waltzes, schottisches, and mazurkas of Central and Northern Europe.

This may sound like a fictitious band that someone like Tom Waits might invent to annoy an interviewer. But the Ramblers were real, and really American as well. Music like this isn’t for everyone. I just happen to think that if you really want God to bless the USA, you should stop listening to Lee Greenwood and start learning how to play the electric toilet plunger.

Humpty Escapes the Tea Party Before the Martian Invasion

Now that rapper-singer-activist Michael Steele has been relieved of his quixotic effort to make the Republican Party multicultural and funky, he can return to his regular day job as Humpty Hump in Oakland’s quintessentially nineties hip-hop combo Digital Underground. Still not convinced that Steele and Humpty Hump are the same person, despite the fact that they’ve never been seen in person at the same time? Try listening again to his signature classic “Humpty Dance,” which lays out the platform with some sexy dirty politics Meghan McCain could only dream of:

I look funny
but yo I’m makin’ money see
so yo world I hope you’re ready for me.

But the “Humpty Dance” is also about inclusiveness, not just acquisitiveness. Although Steele/ Humpty may not have been a stellar fund-raiser, he understood clearly that the party of Lincoln could only survive by expanding its constituency beyond whites and even blacks:

Puerto Ricans, do the Humpty Hump, just keep on doin’ the hump
Samoans, do the Humpty Hump, do the Humpty Hump
Let’s get stoopid

In 2012, neither party will be able to escape the demographic reality that the country of the future will look more like Oakland than Fairfax County. And that means that, regardless of ideology or economic philosophy, we’ll all soon be doing the Humpty Dance. Personally, I’m looking forward to finding out how Mitt Romney will deliver lines like “I’m spunky, I like my oatmeal lumpy.”

At this point, however, Steele/ Humpty is probably relieved to be dancing with himself. That’s because the Tea Party Movement seems to be backfiring in its efforts to reintroduce archly ironic social satire into political theater. After years of halfhearted efforts to educate the masses, this remains the same country that once believed a 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds was reporting a real Martian takeover, or that Rob Reiner’s 1984 spoof This is Spinal Tap was an earnest documentary about an obscure metal band.

That tradition of extreme gullibility continued this week. Pundits across the political spectrum, and even CNN, actually took literally arch-ironist Michele Bachmann’s SNL-style spoof of a “rebuttal” to the State of the Union Address. Ignoring even her most heavy-handed satiric elements–the red and blue chart, the vacant gaze, the claim that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly” until slavery was gone–some even reported that Bachmann had spoken to the wrong camera by mistake.

But Bachmann’s strategy was clearer to anyone who has obtained an overpriced education in art history or critical theory. In homage to Velazquez’s iconic painting Las Meninas, she was slyly commenting on the skewed self-awareness of the viewer and the viewed in televised political speeches. As Foucault described the role of the artist in Velazquez’s masterpiece, “for the spectator at present observing him he is to the right of his canvas, while the latter, the canvas, takes up the whole of the extreme left.” Same goes for Bachmann’s speech directed away from the spectator, except that nobody is to the right of Michele Bachmann.

Digital Underground, “Humpty Dance”

“War of the Worlds” Radio Documentary, Part 1

Woke Up In Another Lifetime

When I started writing about music back in the Paleozoic Era, I used to spend more time defining my tastes in distinction to what I supposedly opposed. As a bookish student with a penchant for streetwise urban blues and working-class British punk, I found the rootless, complacent self-absorption of Seventies-era singer-songwriters and pop stars a convenient target. The few singer-songwriters that escaped my bop gun–Warren Zevon and Randy Newman, or later, Nick Lowe and Graham Parker–tended to be so arch and acerbic that I could wink along with them, imagining they had more in common with my favorite short story writers.

At the time, James Taylor seemed to sum up all that was rootless and complacent. I snickered when I first read Lester Bangs’ essay James Taylor Marked for Death.  In that rant, which mainly praises the primitive beats of the Troggs as an alternative to Dostoyevskian despair (his comparison), Bangs goes gonzo on JT, fantasizing that if he heard one more number about “Jesus walking the boys and girls down a Carolina path while the dilemma of existence crashes like a slab of hod” on the singer’s shoulders, he was ready to manhandle the mellow one until he expired in a “spasm of adenoidal poesy.” But that was in another country, and besides, Bangs is dead.
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My Imaginary Back Pages

Rock Fans Outraged as Bob Dylan Goes Electronica: Audience members at the Newport Rock Festival were “outraged” Monday when rock icon Bob Dylan followed up such classic hits as “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Maggie’s Farm” with an electronica set composed of atonal drones, hyperactive drumbeats, and the repeated mechanized lyric “Dance to the club life!”

The Onion, July 12, 2010

This week marks the 45th anniversary of one of the defining moments in American musical history, except there’s one little catch. Most of it probably never happened. This much we know is true: at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Dylan “went electric” for the first time in a live performance, leaving some folk traditionalists like Pete Seeger less than impressed. But the legend goes way beyond that, implying that the shock of Dylan’s new sound provoked near-riotous anger along the lines of what Igor Stravinsky encountered at the 1913 Armory Show debut of The Rite of Spring. Todd Haynes’ 2007 movie of Dylan’s multiple personalities, I’m Not There, builds up the tallest parts of the tale, showing Jude Quinn, the Cate Blanchett character based on the too-cool-for-school electric Dylan circa 1965, enduring loud boos as the band machine-guns its way through a short electric set. The mild-mannered Seeger suddenly goes ballistic and tries to cut the amp wires with an ax.
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World Cup Rant, Part 3: Five Reasons Not to Cry for Argentina’s Diego Maradona (and suggested soundtrack)

Unless you count celebrity cephalopods, the only larger-than-life presence at this year’s World Cup was a man standing five feet, five inches. Having barely survived his Fat Elvis phase, Argentine legend Diego Maradona re-emerged from his usual work as a religious icon to coach (or at least cheerlead) his national team to the quarter-finals. This happened when the self-styled Pancho Villa in soccer shorts wasn’t otherwise occupied running over reporters’ feet, directing his players to haze each other, threatening to run naked, denouncing Anglo-American imperialism, or getting bitten by his own dog.

In his recent documentary Maradona, the equally eccentric Serbian director Emir Kusturica describes Maradona as the footballer’s equivalent of the Sex Pistols. But he’s more like a combination of Mozart and Iggy Pop: a contortionist savant driven by instinct, walking the line between genius and madness, aware that he is both a brilliant creator and a really big stooge. While these aren’t necessarily the qualities you’d want in a coach, they are sensational songwriter’s materials. Although Maradona is reportedly despondent over his team’s manhandling by Germany, here are reasons you shouldn’t cry for him, with accompanying soundtrack.

1. He’s still the King of Bongo.

Our Diego
Who art on earth
Hallowed be thy left foot
Thy magic come,
Thy goals be remembered.

    The Church of Maradona

Soccer and music don’t always mix. For every goal-worthy performance—K’naan’s Marleyesque reworking of “Wavin’ Flag” from this year, or New Order’s suave “World in Motion” from 1990—two or three come out deserving red cards (for instance, the Village People’s 1994 musical partnership with the German national soccer team). But Maradona, despite his obvious faults, inspires fanatical devotion. He could fill an entire playlist with musical tributes, some of which verge on greatness.

Maradona is the subject of two songs written by Manu Chao, the wiry French/Spanish troubador responsible for politically charged albums such as Clandestino, as well as surreal classics like “Bongo Bong” and “King of Bongo.” The raucous “Santa Maradona,” recorded with Chao’s old Franco-punk band, Mano Negra, pays tribute to his hero even as it flips the bird to hero worship. “La Vida Tombola” (life is a lottery), from Chao’s latest La Radiolina album, mixes joy and melancholy as it traces the man’s journey from rags to riches to disgrace to partial redemption.

Manu Chao, “La Vida Tombola” (sung to Maradona)

2. Andrew Lloyd Webber will never write a bad musical about him.

Argentina has had a few well-known rock bands, including Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Soda Stereo, who performed at Maradona’s wedding. But on an international scale, Maradona’s only serious celebrity rock-star competition is Eva Peron. Unlike poor Evita, however, Maradona has no likelihood of having his life turned into a horrid Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. How bad can his musicals get? Well, in a new production of Evita, Ricky Martin will play the role of Che Guevarra.

Maradona, who named one of his dogs Che, would never stand for this abuse. Moreover, Webber, a supporter of England’s conservative party, would never risk his middlebrow credentials on Maradona, whose popularity in the UK ranks somewhere between that of Napoleon and Osama bin Laden. It’s not just that Maradona scored the most famous illegal and legal goals in history to defeat England 24 years ago (respectively, the devious Hand of God goal and the brilliant Goal of the Century). It’s that Maradona viewed each of these as poetic justice that avenged the Falklands War and placed Argentina on the right side of history. You can argue the history, but it’s really hard to be on England’s side when listening to the amazing Atahualpa Yupanqui.

Atahualpa Yupanqui, “El Carrero”

3. He’s responsible for the modernization of Argentine tango.

I don’t mean that Maradona personally did this, of course. But in his memoir, Astor Piazzolla observed that he was indifferent about football until Maradona’s exciting play made him a “furious fan.” In 1986, the same year Maradona led Argentina to World Cup victory, Piazzolla released one of his most daring works, Tango Zero Hour. More than a coincidence?

Astor Piazzolla, “Tanguedia”

4. He’s Springsteen to those who weren’t born in the USA (or England).

Beneath Maradona’s shiny designer suits and fondness for luxury toilet seats is the soul of a populist rebel from humble origins who sometimes lets his big heart show. Just when you’re ready to dismiss him as just another hopelessly obnoxious rich guy, he can pull something that’s a bit more Joe Strummer or Bruce Springsteen than Johnny Rotten. Even as his own life was unraveling, Maradona helped jump-start the career of then-teenager Diego Forlan, this year’s Golden Ball winner from Uruguay, and helped pay medical bills for Forlan’s paralyzed sister.

Below is a clip of Maradona, still bloated and recovering from his drug-addicted wipeout, covering “La Mano de Dios” (that’s right, “The Hand of God”) by the late Argentine cuartero singer Rodrigo. At first he comes on like a train wreck, something like the over-the-hill boxer Robert DeNiro played near the end of Raging Bull. But by the time family members join him at the end, the clip transforms into something weirdly touching and hopeful.

Maradona singing Rodrigo’s “La Mano de Dios”

5. He’s a better metaphor for globalization than anything in Thomas Friedman’s laptop.

Maradona is missing from almost all of Franklin Foer’s fascinating 2004 book, How Soccer Explains the World. Foer, editor for the New Republic, uses soccer as the lens for fairly gentle criticism of Thomas Friedman-style flat-earth thinking about globalization. He portrays soccer as a surreal parallel world illuminating our own, in which rival teams in placid Glasgow re-enact a centuries-old holy war between Protestants and Catholics, Nigerian players lose their cool in the icy Ukraine, and Iranian women dress up as men to sneak into the world’s largest stadium. The global game, despite its liberalizing potential, still hasn’t come close to overcoming regional, ethnic and religious strife or the power of corrupt oligarchs.

Foer views the tolerant ethos of his favorite team, FC Barcelona, or Barça (which currently includes Maradona’s protégé, Lionel Messi), as a hopeful sign that patriotism and cosmopolitanism can be compatible. The World Cup victory of a graceful Spanish team, largely on the strength of its Catalans and Barça players, with assists from the Basques, might be viewed as supporting this hope. But even that is a bit of a stretch. The victory came just a day after protests in Barcelona over a Spanish court ruling on Catalan autonomy. Outside official circles, Catalonia has its own national team, as do the Basques. And the ethnic and economic divisions in Spain pale next to others in Europe, which pale in comparison to those in other continents.

If you had to pick a soundtrack for cosmopolitan nationalism, what would you choose? Barça’s unofficial theme song last year was…drumroll please…“Viva La Vida” by Coldplay–because nothing motivates athletes quite like moderately paced middle-of-the-road rock. That may be a bit harsh. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities. I admire its tolerant reputation and its team’s storied history (the soccer field was one of the few outlets available for Catalan expression during the bleak Franco years). I also have nothing against Coldplay’s signature song, or the half-dozen others that share its lilting melody. But I think the hopeful parts of Foer’s thesis may play a little too much like a Coldplay song—meticulously constructed and catchy, but lacking a willingness to push beyond the comfort zone at the risk of looking ridiculous.

Maradona, who is all about pushing beyond the comfort zone, inspires either revulsion or religious devotion (and yes, there’s a Church of Maradona with more than a hundred thousand members). While his fanatical devotees vary widely, many never got Tom Friedman’s memo about how the latest internationally-distributed gadgets will help level the playing field. They understandably would like to believe that every once in a while, they might have a turn to rule the world, if only for the length of a game. They want to believe David can still slay Goliath, even if it requires the Hand of God.

Scenes from the Church of Maradona

South Korean singers summon the hand of God in 2002