Monday, March 03, 2008

1. I'll never forget the day I realized I could make a living as a writer if I tried hard enough. I was working coat check at First Avenue and was irritated about my schedule or lack thereof. Sitting there with a clipboard, I did some math and realized that if I wrote enough record reviews, I could cover all $330 per month I was paying for my room in a three-BR house on Emerson and Franklin with $500 or more to spare. What more could a recently single 24-year-old possibly need? I could have the life of relative leisure I'd never dared to imagine for myself and do what I'd always wanted to do besides. I knew I'd be leaving Minneapolis at some point soon anyway; might as well go out in what for me amounted to style.

That was nine years ago. Today I'd be deeply fearful of making that decision starting out, or close to it. I'd know I'd still have to work door or barback, clean squid or deep-fry it, serve ice cream or make waffle cones, to pick some of the jobs I had before going all-pro, all the time. I miss those days tremendously, if it isn't obvious; I miss meeting people and forming friendships and standing all day without straining my lower back. Music was so threaded into the fabric of that life that I can't honestly refer to it as an escape, but it was an ideal and that can be hard to appreciate when you're immersed in it completely.

2. I just came across Tom Ewing's new marketing blog, and if I'd seen it a week ago I would probably not have written my last Project X as I did. Tom's own additional thoughts on his great Peel column--not especially surprising he extended the idea of "filtering out weird stuff" better than I could. He goes where I was trying to: the stuff about Noir City and the Dandelion Radio list were attempts to talk about how music listeners on the web often use filters as blinders or guards, and how that makes for poorer tastes and less-broad interests once the initial shock of novelty wears off. This is at least part of why urban-boho listeners like myself (often white, somewhat tech-savvy, indie-minded if not always interested in indie per se) have re-embraced indie rock in the past couple years, often at the expense of further-ranging stuff, at least from what I've seen. (I live in Seattle, so I've seen plenty.) But my original plan was to bring in some other things (particularly David Hepworth's disarmingly open ruminations in the new, fifth-anniversary issue of The Word) that I just didn't have time or energy for--or really, just wasn't organized enough to do.

3. The reason for this, besides my own chronic disorganization, is that two Saturdays ago I put together a massive CD shelf that now occupies the house's living room. It's a great-looking thing, and as I'd planned it opened up a lot of floor space. (Not that I'm finished cleaning my room, of course. But I can walk around in it for the first time in months.) Going through it leisurely I'm finding a lot of stuff I'd forgotten about, more or less--things that weren't in my mind's forefront, old friends, yadda yadda. First up was playing Angela the Hoosier Hot Shots' "I Like Bananas (Because They Have No Bones)," the dizziest record I know, even more so than Slim Gaillard's "Serenade to a Poodle." ("Don't give me no peaches, they are full of stones/I like bananas because they have no bones.")

But the past few days have been all about that banner year . . . 2004! I've been revisiting a number of things from that year: Annie's "Heartbeat," Brandy's "Talk About Our Love," Portobella's "Covered in Punk," the U.S.E. album, all of it sounding glorious as before. It's strange to think of such a fraught year--my many health problems, worrying over my sister's pregnancy, fielding snide remarks re: the unpardonable sin of having better things to do than going out every fucking night of the week, the election--as such a sonic bounty, and indeed it doesn't now (and didn't at the time) have the sort of anything-can-happen feeling of 2001-02, music-wise. Just a year so solid I expected every one after to be much the same way, only to make way for 2005, which at the time I called the worst pop year of my conscious lifetime, and 2006, which made 2005 seem like every golden age you could hope for. (Since I keep count, 2007 was a great year and 2008 is shaping up to be a very good one, though c'est la vie if it too sinks.)

The real revelation about '04 was coming across CD-Rs of Mike Daddino's "Recommended Listening" folders. Mike had a great idea: each month he compiled favorite tracks and, instead of labeling the files artist-and-title, wrote mini-reviews and/or mini-summaries before the .mp3 tags. These glosses of Xgau's Honorable Mentions and Greil's Stranded discography carry a jolt because of their format, and also because he does them with real style. They were some of my favorite pieces of criticism I saw that year, and I'm sorry I'd forgotten them, though given the insane busy-ness of my life just in the past three months (never mind four years), it's not terribly surprising. A few are simple notes ("breakout track from ’04’s likeliest hip-hop consensus album"--Kanye West ft. Twista & Jamie Foxx, “Slow Jamz”), and others wouldn't translate outside his (our) groups of friends.

But a number of them are enjoyable and have legs: "idm blowhard gets something right for a change" (Squarepusher, “Iambic 9 Poetry”); "ukranian dance parties musta been real barn burners" (Samuil Pilip’s Lemkiwska Orchestra, “Daliwskyj Tanec”); "‘disguise it as an aztec camera reunion and the hipoisie would cream’" (John Mayer, “Clarity”--not sure who Daddino's quoting there, but they're right); "aussie krautjazz groove, m denny for the new age of anxiety" (The Necks, “Drive-By”); "house music for people who need paxil" (Richard Davis, “Bring Me Closer”); "the insidious influence of ‘hey ya’ continues unchecked in alt-land" (Raya, “Animal Farm”); "rock lobster girls just wanna have fun dancing on the ceiling ‘cause they got the beat" (Alan Braxe & Fred Falke, “Rubicon [Original Version]”).