Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, four chickens, striped cat, and way too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning feature editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He set out to be a scientist, and as an undergrad spent a year in an organic chemistry lab at UC-Berkeley, where he was a biochemistry major, trying to synthesize natural poisons found in the skin of certain tropical frogs. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a second masters in journalism from UC-Berkeley. In 2009, he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for public service, as one of five writers in MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. The father of two mostly charming kids and an only occasionally charming striped cat named Phelps, Michael lives in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and raucous punk-rock drumming (and putting out more than a dozen CDs on his former DIY label, Bad Monkey Records), he has retired to old-time and traditional music, guitar finger-picking, and more recently fiddle and mandolin. He has four chickens—Lucia, Podge, Cat, and Weed Whacker—but what he really covets is a hedgehog.

Quick Reads: "Authorisms" by Paul Dickson

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT


By Paul Dickson


Are you a literary muscleman or a munchkin? A word ninja or a spewer of malaprops? And who came up with these terms anyway? In Authorisms, Paul Dickson traces writerly coinages (a coinage of the Elizabethan scribe George Puttenham) of words and expressions ranging from assassination (Shakespeare's Macbeth) to zombification (the poet Andrei Codrescu). He takes things too far sometimes—while Jane Austen may have been the first to mention base ball in print­, for instance, it wasn't the baseball we know. Yet I was fascinated to discover that sayings I'd mistaken for relatively recent—blurb (1907), frenemy (1953), weapons of mass destruction (1937), wimp (from an 1898 children's book by Evelyn Sharpe)—actually predated me. It's enough to drive an anxious magazine editor to verbicide.

This review originally appeared in our May/June 2014 issue of Mother Jones.

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The Melodic: Young Guns of Brixton

| Mon Feb. 10, 2014 7:00 AM EST

It's kind of funny, because I first stumbled across the fabulous English folksinger Johnny Flynn when I randomly picked his debut album out of the free pile of CDs overlooked for review, and then found myself listening to it again and again. Now, thanks to Flynn, I've been turned on to The Melodic, a young Brixton band whose debut LP, Effra Parade, came out in November. Here's "Runaway."

I caught these guys opening for Flynn last week at San Francisco's cozy Rickshaw Stop, the final stop of their mutual American tour. The sold-out crowd showed up for Flynn, but gave The Melodic its full attention and was rewarded with a set of richly layered, harmony-laden, often upbeat, evocative music that their label, Anti-, bills as afro-folk-pop—categories, categories. Still, that's pretty apt. There are definitely African and Caribbean/Jamaican rhythmic and melodic influences, and perhaps a dose of the 1960s folk in which some of the band members immersed themselves at various points. They've also got some atypical instrumentation—Effra Parade employs 18 instruments, including the Charango, a 10-stringed Andean devil.

Before the show, I met Rudi Schmidt, whose father produced music for Jah Wobble and the Specials' Jerry Dammers, and who grew up surrounded by music and musicians and unusual instruments. He was turned onto the Charango (not to mention the melodica, another arrow in the band's quiver) by a Chilean pal, and then traveled to Bolivia to study with Charango master Ernesto Cavour, eventually even touring with the country's national orchestra and the La Paz Folk Ballet.

Johnny Flynn

Now the kid can really jam on the thing, and does wonderful point-counterpoint leads with singer/guitarist Huw Williams, who knows his way around an acoustic. Williams alternates lead and harmony vocals with Lydia Samuels, who also plays autoharp and melodica and had the crowd rapt after her gorgeous cover of a song by….Okay, so maybe I shouldn't have had that second pint. But if you ask her, maybe she'll sing it for you again.

Flynn appeared for a fiddle cameo, introduced by the Melodic as some violinist they met on the street. He later returned to the stage for a strong solo set of favorites from his three full-lengths, A Larum, Been Listening, and his most recent, Country Mile. As usual, his crowd was smitten. "Where have you been all my life?" one woman shouted between songs.

Flynn smiled, and continued tuning his resonator guitar. "Around," he said. (Slick.)

So be sure and look out for all of the above the next time they're "around." I can't speak for Mr. Flynn, but The Melodic plans to be back in America soon on a tour with Tinariwen, yet another wandering band worth checking out.

Here's "Ode to Victor Jara":

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