Saturday, June 28, 2008

Todd Hutlock, from his “2002 Year End Thoughts” on Stylus:

Oh, yeah—I’d be remiss if I didn’t revel in the irony that I paid for a lot of that stuff by selling tons of garbage promo CDs sent to me by labels seemingly blind to musical history and in desperate grasp for the next big teen “thing.” Thanks, guys—couldn’t have done without your awful business sense and lack of taste and originality!

Minus the specifics (blindness shmindness, and next teen things sometimes pan out), I used to feel this way myself. I saw the work of other people as my lunch, turned in large numbers of gifts for rent money, turned the eager beginnings of people who will no doubt grow to good things into cases for my own mixes. I wasn’t alone. A lot of music writers lived like this once upon a time; it was more lucre at a point when (let’s be honest) anyone with half an ounce’s worth of nerve could make a little bit of money as a critic (or, as or more frequently, content provider). Biz was biz, which in the ’90s meant what it meant for the decade as a whole. Maybe it’s that Minneapolis was cheap; before moving away for good in 1999, I lived for $232 a month in a three-bedroom downstairs unit in an old duplex, had plenty of privacy and liked my roommates. I didn’t need to make that much money to live on; when I went to Seattle in August 1999 I subsisted on a pretty low checking account and was only flagging for a bit before I got a job with the Weekly. But I know for sure that I would never have been able to do those things without the extra income provided by selling promo CDs.

Like a lot of music writers, my budget has been crunched in the past couple of years. The lowering of rates, the tightening of space, and venues closing their doors (whether permanently or just to me) all contribute. I was broke after moving to New York in 2006, and stayed that way until well after I came back to Seattle. These are the kinds of things that were easier to navigate back when you could sell promos more or less freely--when there were a lot of them around. There aren’t anymore; most of the promos I get now are digital.

And I prefer it that way.

Over the past two years I’ve become a slightly different kind of music fan than I was for a few years prior to that. Once I was a promo whore. Working at First Avenue, I photocopied a directory of phone numbers to record labels. For two years, whenever I wanted something, I consulted the stapled-together Xerox. It enabled me to get on more promo lists than anyone, much less someone who wasn’t writing very widely and often, in the writing, didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. Eventually, I was getting 50 CDs a week. That’s a lot of pocket change, especially when you work (as I did in my final months in Minneapolis) at a used-CD shop and can trade in for stuff you actually want. Doing calendar at the Weekly the first time re-upped my sources; going back to edit the section, at minimum, quadrupled it. Eventually I got selective.

I once received an email from a publicist that included, in part, the words, “I know you hate publicists.” I don’t hate publicists, not in the least. Many of them are extremely kind, courteous, and frighteningly knowledgeable about music. (A few seem to love the stuff even more than I do, bless them.) Many more have helped me with something or other that I remain grateful for. A couple are dicks--big deal. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I answer publicists’ email with anything you’d refer to as “frequency.” This pisses some of them off, and the others seem used to it. It is, I think, a good system: we all know that the time you respond is the time you have a real answer, and especially if you get a lot of promos (or are presumed to) you’re given some slack. So it appears to me, anyway.

The point, though, is that this is at least as difficult a time for publicists (the workaday ones, not the ones for big stars) as it is for writers about music. Probably worse, actually, because they’re still paying postage on packages when they send them. But a lot of them aren’t anymore. And this is one of those things that’s so resolutely good I concur even if it means I can’t get sellback bucks anymore.

Part of this has to do with the 2006 NYC move. Before departing Seattle, I’d emailed some 500 contacts (not friends, mind you--people whose press releases I’d kept in a work email folder) and told them where I was going to be working and that while I’d be freelancing some, keeping my name on their lists was at their discretion. Frankly, I was beat. All those promos all the time--I was going to work for an MP3 retailer and wouldn’t need CDs, hardly. And indeed, what I was sent in my eight months at eMusic could have filled a postal crate, nothing more.

What happened then is a handful of events that in memory coagulate down to one visit to Kim’s on St. Mark’s Place. It was a Tuesday, and I went down to see what was available. The new Built to Spill had come out. I hesitated a second and then said to hell with it and paid for a copy. I’d long bought stuff at regular retail but it almost never was new. (And if it was, it was usually for work.) I only really liked a couple songs on You in Reverse, but it felt like a dam break: back to being a regular consumer, buying new albums every week because you want to hear them--and because you haven’t heard them.

Especially after I got back to Seattle and started making a little money again, I became a Tuesday habitué. Moving into a house one small block from Sonic Boom Records helps that. I’d made a vow that I wouldn’t buy more than one book a month this year, and while in strict terms I’ve been delinquent for the most part the experiment is a success. CDs I’ll need a little more time before I cut down on.

One thing I wanted to mention in my 2007 Idolator Pop essay was how much more satisfied I often am with albums partly because I know I bought them. (I thought it would sound self-congratulatory, and maybe this post does too.) That’s certainly not always the case: I acquire quite a bit on MP3, I still get free downloads from eMusic as a contributor, and obviously I still do get promo CDs (thank you all). But so far this year I’ve paid for at least a half-dozen titles I already had the MP3s for. Sometimes these were acquired from editors for assignments; sometimes a colleague would sneak one over. But with a sonic feast like Portishead’s Third or Flying Lotus’s Los Angeles you need the full treatment.

I’ve been delinquent in my album listening for a number of reasons, mainly to do with a couple big things I’m doing that require more attention than usual. And my hours have been unsteady, though I’m trying to fix that this weekend. But I do feel more invested in this stuff, in both ways, than I used to. And I’m glad I do, because there were a lot of moments when I started to wonder if I wasn’t just starting to see it as a numbers game--I didn’t think so at the time, but you want to guard against it.

This is starting to slide over a bit, so let me take it further: I’m planning a half-year albums list in the days to come, and will probably elaborate some on this, but 2008 is, to my ear, pretty solid so far. I’ve liked a good number of albums, and find bounty in tracks all the time. There’s even a narrative shaping up, at least in my hearing, and I’ll talk about that when I have the list done.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Today's oldie: Billy Eckstine's "Ask the Lonely" (on The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 9: 1969). Back in his day, Eckstine was major, one of the top crooners, definitely one of the top African-American crooners, an icon. Rock and roll changed that; soul changed it some more. I won't pretend to know Eckstine's early work in anything more than a cursory way, which is one reason I wasn't expecting to be so moved by this. I think this is on the fourth disc of the '69 Motown box, which I played in order over a couple of days, and aside from a Soupy Sales record mocking "Macarthur Park" this is one I didn't know already that kicked my ass. What's remarkable is how perfect the fit is. The song is Eckstine in tone, mood, even tempo; you could easily hear this as the Four Tops track with a different vocal patched on. But Eckstine's deep, deep timbre communicates a lifetime of hurt; he sounds far more wracked (in part by sounding far more upright) than Levi Stubbs, who was not shy about communicating pain. Especially because Eckstine's nowhere near as big a ham as Stubbs, he worries it with absolute authority. I wonder if he made an album's worth of stuff this good.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Today, this happened. What an odd thing it is to read in full (or near-full, as I am now)--and frankly heartening. I might not think TheButcher is presenting himself all that well and that there's still tiptoeing being done, but it still makes me happy when people care enough to get up in arms over things like this.

I've stated my RA fandom plenty enough. The writing isn't great most of the time, but it's often good, and its every-few-days updating schedule lets you breathe while still filling you in. Enough cannot be said about the podcast. I do hope things end up in decent order and wish the best for Tami Fenwick and Jeremy Armitage.

Monday, June 23, 2008

For some reason I never forget that the downtown Seattle Public Library, the Rem Koolhaas one, is great to work in--I can write on my laptop in the lustrous top floor, which feels like the inside of a disco ball, or I can do research (as I was today, for an upcoming article I'll mention more about when it's coming) to my heart's content. Good thing about the latter, too--I have a number of other things to look up still. And even if I'm just situated, in this case, on the eighth floor, where the music reference books are, it's really easy to kill time there, especially when looking up stuff that interests me. I'll be there at least one more day, more likely two--hell, maybe that's my workplace for the rest of the week. You won't hear me complaining.

Note: This was written in November 2007.

My Dog Tulip was first published in Great Britain, 1956, but the copyright notice on the New York Review of Books Classic edition is 1965--probably the year Ackerley wrote the appendix (more an afterword to my eye--I’m accustomed to appendices consisting mostly of bibliographies and notes), which was obviously written after the fact. Tulip was apparently a semi-legendary small-press book when it initially appeared, which makes sense: as the story of a man and his dog, it’s indulgent by nature. More specifically, as the story of a man and his attempts to breed his dog, the subject that takes up the bulk of the book, it’s very indulgent.

It’s also very elegant, which makes for good comic tension, as when, deadpan, the author combats his fellow urbanites for their reductive view of the canine species, allowing Tulip, his overprotective Alsatian, to shit on the sidewalk. He doesn’t simply describe this--he devotes a chapter to it, and three to various attempts to husband his animal. Ackerley’s detail often borderlines on graphic, but he’s too refined to be lurid; the results are a kind of highfalutin earthiness, told by a hapless narrator in love with his bitch.

Because that’s what Tulip is: an Alsatian bitch, pure of breed, though after at least a half-dozen attempts--I didn’t count--to mate her with her own, a tryst with a neighborhood mutt finally plants the seed. Ackerley uses the word the way it came into the world, where it’s not likely to return anytime soon. It’s a little jarring to read it in the middle of a book aimed at the well turned--not infrequently, either. There are almost as many “bitches” here as in Iceberg Slim’s Pimp. Not to get too Beavis and Butt-Head about it, but the way that term now jars Ackerley’s setting of it is probably more amusing than his tone or his tales.

The tales are pretty good, though Ackerley’s endless tales of running amok through London (and later Essex) attempting to hook the pooch up do get a little samey. Still, sameyness is the point: the draw is the angles the author spins his tales from. Tulip--in real life better known as Queenie--was adopted from one of Ackerley’s lovers (he was openly gay, unusual in ’50s London), and Ackerley makes preternatural judgments on her behalf (she should mate with another purebred; well, I guess it’s OK for her to stay on with my wayward cousin even though we’ll miss each other dearly--there’s a garden to play in) and guards her against the injustice of human expectations about the behavior of animals (one especially indignant moment comes toward someone who suggests Tulip put herself in the line of oncoming cars if she wants to relieve herself publicly). Tulip, meanwhile, is an aggressive protector of her master; we learn this when Ackerley does, as the sole veterinarian he trusts informs him, “She’s in love with you, that’s obvious.”

In a way, this is an ideal book with which to begin an off-canon classics series--a late career work by a cultishly adored writer, smart and tidy and formalist above all, as well as a brisk version of a genre (dog books) generally given over to slop. Actually, that’s simply a guess: I can’t think of any dog books I’ve read, not even Jack London. (I told you I wasn’t a lit person.) I’ll simply take my cues from the NYRB edition’s introduction by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, which reads the way an aunt grabbing your cheeks at a family reunion feels. Of course, since the book is apparently being made into an animated film, maybe soon it won’t be all that off-canon. Still, there are three other Ackerley titles in the NYRB series (My Father and Myself, We Think the World of You, and Hindoo Holiday), and something tells me I’ll like them more, simply because I’m not a dog man.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Surprising myself here with Joey Beltram's Classics, which I'm listening to for the first time in whole. This really is good! I hadn't realized his other stuff might be worth hearing, loom so large do the classics. And obviously nothing else is "Energy Flash" or even "Mentasm." But the way he arranges stuff is pretty brilliant, particularly on "The Melody," and he was probably has most patient hand of any of the early 303 artists. "Sub-Bass Experience," for example--its acid line is low enough all right, but it's also never tweaked to fuck--only once does he make a drastic tonal change, about 47 seconds from the end. It's obviously got its dated qualities, but they only make the thing sound cooler, the way this stuff can be turned into a kind of sonic truism of faith. It's so simple! Make b-lines that engage! Cheap can be otherworldly. Simple ideas can be good ideas. Sometimes hewing to your surroundings can highlight your uniqueness. Try to have fun.

One thing I just thought of re. the new jack swing piece: It may be that Public Enemy's greatest sonic impact on black music wasn't on hip-hop or jungle: it was on R&B. New jack swing's clattering beats and textured noisescapes come in large part from the Bomb Squad (and also in large part from Marley Marl). (The Def Jam house style wasn't nearly hectic enough to qualify. It occupied a big, simple sound field, whereas P.E. was jam-packed.) Obviously Teddy Riley had learned a ton from Jam & Lewis as well, not to mention Prince and dozens of other synth-funk merchants. But if Riley changed R&B forever, and he did, that alone would be argument for P.E.'s impact on R&B proper.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

My listening choices at the recent not-so-Listening Club were both from the early '90s. The first is Living Colour's "Solace of You," from 1990's Time's Up. I still recall with some fondness an argument I had in Speech class in 10th grade, about how Living Colour was awesome (I believe I called Time's Up my "favorite record of last year," as if anyone else in my high school gave a rat's ass about such a distinction), with two girls who'd clearly grown up on the Carpenters and didn't like rap. (No, we didn't argue about Living Colour being hip-hop or not--they were bland, not stupid, or deaf.) That's not the way I feel now; Chuck Eddy's complaints about Corey Glover's lyrics and voice have registered audibly for me when I've heard the band more recently, but what's funny is that aside from "Cult of Personality," which had the distinction of being a hit, unlike everything else Living Colour ever did, the one song that retains any serious impression (besides the dynamic shift of "Time's Up," from hardcore to something near "Running with the Devil") is "Solace of You." It's the band's Afropop song--essentially highlife, with Vernon Reid devising one of my favorite guitar riffs ever, patterned plainly and lovingly on King Sunny Ade--and placed next to last on the album. The lyrics, as I remembered listening to the song again for the first time in years, were denoted on my cassette lyric sheet as being in character--the imprisoned Nelson Mandela singing to Winnie. When I was 15, I was moved; at 33, I winced at the memory of being moved so deeply by what I realize now isn't that uncommon a gesture. The bridge is still a pretty wonderful piece of work, though: "Got to go inside, back where it started/Back to the beginning, 'cause that's where my heart is." I'd probably listen to anybody singing that with an open ear. And that riff--everybody should hear that riff.

The second choice is one I'm even happier to have rediscovered: Prince & the New Power Generation's "Blue Light," from 1992, off the album that shall not be named. (Bob Christgau calls it "Prince XV.") This is his reggae song, but it's also his smart and funny adult contemporary song, his "Something to Talk About" in reverse. Topic: woman isn't nearly as kinky as man; man pleads for blue bulb to give him a little something extra to work with. Lines stand out: "I tell each and every one of my friends/That the love we make is really pretty rude/But they don't believe me/'Cause it's written all over my face/Like Evian and the deep blue sea/You and me got different tastes." Let's stop on that first line: since when the hell does Prince have friends? You mean like dudes who come over for barbecue and the Timberwolves on the big screen? That aren't on his payroll? I wonder. (No one anymore could afford the mileage all the way out to Chanhassen anyway, if in fact he hasn't completely pulled up stakes to L.A.) I also only recently noticed the Evian line, and its double meaning. He's a lot sneakier a lyricist than he's generally given credit for, especially by people who stopped listening in the '90s. The most overtly Prince-like lines come near the end chorus: "We need to get wild again/Like it was when we first met/Close your eyes and count to ten/And when you open 'em/I'll be naked with nothing but a smile on." Even that's a change--the emphasis isn't on the nakedness, but the smile.

So of course I love it: it shades in the persona of Prince, Growing Artist. And that's why you've probably never heard (of) it: no one outside the purple cabal gives a shit. "Blue Light" is like straightforward Joni: theme, setting, dialogue, wit, chorus for singing along. There's also a weedy sax. (Or as Rodney put it, a smooth-jazz sax.) And it's part of a Prince mini-genre, domestic comedy songs. (Parts of Emancipation and Musicology both qualify here.)

Reggae: "Blue Light" is basically electronics-enhanced live-band lovers rock. Its overtly JA touches are basically stock (rolling-downbeat snares, wormy synthesizers a la early-'80s Taxi), and the groove is agreeable. The sax follows the melody in chunks on the pre-choruses and choruses, and it's a little undermixed, as it should be. The bridge has Prince whining his guitar solo along with his playing, a nice touch. Very breathy backing vocals. The man studies his sources.

On the album, "Blue Light" is followed by the not-remotely-convincing robo-groove of "I Wanna Melt With U." On its own, it breathes its own air. Someone ought to cover it, and rescue it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

This is dedicated to Jessi Kramer, who is some days my favorite person in the world. (Except when she's double-skunking me in cribbage, but whatever.)

Willie Nelson, "I'm a Memory," on disc one of the recent box set, from 1970. Willie goes psychedelic, a well you'd think someone that publicly stoned would have gone to more often. Well, he has his deep philosophical moments, sure, but those you can take, as it were, straight. Anyway, listened to this again earlier (it's in my 2008 Old Songs file) and realized: Richard Harris could be singing this. And maybe he has. (I'm no expert.) But even better was the thought that followed: But he isn't. Willie Nelson is. Everybody wins.

Up late researching (that should really be in quotes) a project, listening to this Theme Time Radio Hour With Your Host Bob Dylan comp on Ace (as distinct from the one on Chrome Dreams I wrote about a bit back). On disc two, track five, is Roy Montrell's "(Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone," a crazed bit of nonsense from 1956 that sounds as if it's attempting to embody as many frightenend white folks' horrified perception of rock and roll as "jungle music" as possible. It's a wild record--so much so that its wildness seems premeditated. Anyway, listening, I realized that maybe this song has lasted so long because of Montrell's vocal similarities to Louis Prima. Except wasn't classiness, or whatever it was the lounge revival was supposed to retroactively bestow upon its inspirations, sort of the reason for Prima's bubble around the same time, too? You know, he wore suits, he played Vegas, he did onstage business in addition to singing. Saw himself as a showman, which was sort of funny to mid-'90s folks who'd come up on indie spleen, or was at first until they started wondering what exactly they might be missing from a non-showbiz world. Then I think, no, that's not quite right--you're treating a bubble you were on the periphery of for a few months there like it's just a bubble.

I think more about rockabilly revivalists than I have any real right or need to. They fascinate me: it's maybe the most unreconstructed cult in pop. (I'm sure there are others, but humor me for now.) I think to some degree, the '90s lounge revival's principal social function was to bump the recruits of Dusty 45s fans. Which, you know, fine--it just doesn't intersect anywhere near my neural points. But I guess I think about this stuff because I've known a few of these folks. I've usually met them through jobs. My first time in Seattle I worked with a woman--really nice, a little intense (she had a very loud crush on another coworker), a lot of fun to talk with. She lived with her boyfriend on Capitol Hill--not far from where I live (and am) right now. In 1996 they invited me over for Thanksgiving. She'd always mentioned how punk rock he was many times--punk, in this case, meaning Social Distortion. (I like Social Distortion and think their 2007 best-of was a minor event I was nevertheless waiting for my entire life.)

Oh hell, maybe all I'm really trying to do here is read too much into kind of liking Social Distortion, not to mention finally airing my long-simmering theory that (in America, at least) Mike Ness provided a working model of everyday punkdom that's probably more widely emulated than any other--not in the music so much, but in its fan base. (Who would you rather model your life on, Johnny "Antichrist" Rotten? G.G. "G.G. Allin" Allin? Or the gruff-yet-sensitive guy working on his '66 Thunderbird down the block? Which one would you prefer to date?) Anyway, to tie this all up in a big bow because I apparently can't stay on topic to save my life, I bet Mike Ness really likes "That Mellow Saxophone." Mike Ness is a man of honor and taste. The end.

And now let's return to the classics:

Tonight was supposed to be Listening Club, but it didn't quite work out that way. Half our usual crew was out of commission somehow or other--work, injury, prior commitment. It ended up being only five of us: Jen (the host, whose new house is spectacular, or will be when everything's moved in), Rickey, Jill, Rodney, and I. (Josh was sleeping off a freelancing all-nighter.) But the backyard, where we ate, is a destination in itself. We ended up playing our selections back-to-back: both my picks, both Rickey's, etc. Things got more interesting toward the end, when we played stuff for fun. Jill went into horrific contortions when I played Reba McEntire & Kenny Chesney's "Every Other Weekend," telling me afterward how horrible it was, a response I wasn't one bit surprised by--I've been waiting for it to happen. The record is completely shameless, and the first time I heard it, having no idea what was going to happen, was overwhelming. I worked harder to convince myself I didn't love it than the opposite.

Rodney took issue with my distaste for Leona Lewis. "It sounds like bad early Mariah, like 'Vision of Love,'" I said. Well, he responded, exactly: Rodney likes "Vision of Love." This is one of the things I notice with increasing frequency: Mariah Carey has been almost completely critically rehabbed. She is taken seriously as a vocal stylist and her early singles are considered classics. This fascinates me. Mariah wasn't widely liked in most of the '90s crit I've read, but it doesn't mean she didn't have fans in those quarters that I missed. Nevertheless, she's attained classic rock status--she's classic the way BTO or Boston are, by being the music you grew up on and therefore will always feel affectionate toward. For someone like Rodney, who's 21, it's literally what he grew up on. And no, I'm not accusing Rodney (or anyone else) of faulty decision-making based on nostalgia. I do it too, and anyway, I'm sure they're all hearing something I'm not. But that doesn't mean I necessarily want to start hearing it too.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Flying Lotus's Los Angeles = New Amerykah in Dub. Well, not precisely. But close enough.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I seriously hope Bret Thorn does this with other movies: an analysis of the meals eaten in the film adaptation of American Psycho.

Monday, June 09, 2008

From Ned Sublette's "The Kingsmen and the Cha-Cha-Chà," in Listen Again: " . . . [T]hat Brill Building rhythm"--descending from what I'll simplify here as the tango pattern, a la "Be My Baby"--"played at a comfortable mid-tempo, survived to become the default template of white people's music, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, after the dangerous prospect of rhythmic variety had been squelched by the virtual segregation of highly targeted radio formats. . . . Meanwhile, the new kids got rid of rhythm pretty much entirely, replacing it with thrash, which is why I never gave a fuck about punk rock."

From Dave Marsh's "Anarchy in the UK" entry (No. 100) in The Heart of Rock & Soul: the 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made: "[T]here's a difference between a transformation and a fracture, between a breakthrough and a breakdown. The revolts of 'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag' and 'Dance to the Music' never severed the connective tissue that 'Anarchy in the U.K.' shreds from start to finish. . . . That doesn't mean anything as corny and melodramatic as the Death of Rock and Roll. It just means that somebody had figured out how to make artistically and commercially viable pop music based on a rhythmic process outside R&B, a feat unequaled since the advent of Elvis Presley, and that consequently, things were fundamentally different thereafter."

Reading the Sublette (for the first time, I'm ashamed to say--it's one of the pieces in Listen Again I figured I'd get to first, and here I am getting to it nearly last) is pretty exciting for me in 2008 in ways similar to reading Marsh's book was in 1989: an opening into a world I don't know nearly as well as I'd like to. Of course, Sublette is talking about something I don't know nearly as much about now as I did rock and soul back when I was a high school freshman: Latin music is one of my chronic deaf spots. I don't kick myself for it very much--it's OK to have deaf spots, even if your (hopeful) life's work is to interact with music--but given how much I've liked the classic stuff I've heard I do wonder.

The real reason I started typing all this out, though, is that reading the Sublette quote brought me instantly back to the Marsh one, and makes me wonder: is there a connective tissue to sever in pop history at this point? One of the great things about the Sublette piece (and, I'm sure, his Cuba book, which I've only read a little of--again, shame on me, especially given how much I love the guy's writing-as-writing) is how simply he makes his argument: that we do not really know the shape of a half-century (or more) of pop music without understanding its Latin (specifically Cuban) component. This is an argument Marsh has made too: The First Rock & Roll Confidential Report features a brief, persuasive bit in which Marsh talks about his initial skepticism about Latin music's "majorness," only to find a treasure chest of examples that, he recognizes in the piece, just scratches the surface.

It's the punk part of the argument that I'm interested in here, though. At this point it seems odd to consider punk as a separate strain of rock and roll, largely because to some degree--to me, anyway--it seems odd to consider any kind of music as separate from the larger stream, at least on the surface. "Severed the connective tissue"--I can't think of a record made in ages that really worked that way, at least in practice, and while the argument for "Anarchy" in that light is easy to make and believe (at the very least it jolted a lot of people into action that might not have done otherwise, via means they might not have thought of prior), as a piece of music (the thing Marsh is basically talking about), even as someone who understands the record's role it's hard to hear it as a severance. That's probably because I know too much about what came afterward--or maybe because I care enough about that (unlike Sublette, for rhythmic reasons, or Marsh, for what are basically political ones) that it's central to me, not a one-off.

What records after "Anarchy" severed their connective tissue? The one I can think of that really works at that level is "Acid Tracks"--broke completely with the old order, caused a small but deep sensation (perhaps an unfairly Yank-centric thing to say--the Sex Pistols were huge in England, after all--but fuck it, I'm not British), inspired scads of imitations (many of which, unlike with "Anarchy," were far superior to the original), also inspired (after a fashion) an alternate pecking order. There are probably others that I'm either not thinking of or avoiding mentioning simply because they're too easy to argue against.

But "Acid Tracks" wasn't aimed at the general marketplace the way "Anarchy" was; it was never intended to be anything other than what it was, an avant-garde dance record. And either way, it's harder and harder to conceive of a record "severing the connective tissue" between it and its surroundings, because it's harder to think of a record's surroundings as fixed and knowable. On the one hand, I find it disingenuous when people write newly-resuscitated musicians into a historical framework during which no one knew anything about them; on the other hand, I've done it by proxy myself, on the CD-R Go! comps dedicated to years before I was consciously listening to music (or even alive). (It should go without saying that including a Rodd Keith song-poem on the 1966 volume stretches the limits of credulity even by my loose standards.) Even if you ignore that impulse, though, the idea of pop music as a continuum is harder to refute--and harder to defend. More and more it feels like a series of islands connected by mainframe, everything connected and everything separate. Essentially, the more you know about music, the more you realize how little you will ever possibly know.

If this sounds familiar, it should: I cavil about this all the time lately, on this blog and with my friends. It dovetails all too easily with the growing worry I often feel about my line of work. There's a sense in which not having big ruptures to report on makes music writing seem like marking time--something Simon Reynolds' quartet of pieces I linked the other day talk about very well. Re-reading them--particularly the parts where he describes the music writing landscape as lacking the kind of passionate thrust that drew him into doing this himself--I feel implicated, like I haven't done my duty with enough fervor, or haven't drawn enough lines in the sand. (Unless, you know, you're a Guided by Voices fan I baited from back when I used to post to ILM.) I'd worry about it more, though, if I were still convinced that writing about music is as viable a career path as it used to be. We shall see how it turns out.

What year is this, 2004? What is with all these blog-tags? Harrumph. This one, from Alfred, stops here (from me anyway).
List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring.
Not in order, obv.:

The Rolling Stones, "Child of the Moon" (ABKCO, 1968)--their best psychedelic record, meaning it isn't very psychedelic aside from the lyric; one of the best from an incredibly fertile period, period.

Lloyd ft. Lil Wayne, "Girls Around the World" (Cash Money, 2008)--the most lubricious vocal I've heard in ages; I ended my visit to Minneapolis in my sister Brittany's car, blasting this about 15 times in a row before she dropped me at Amtrak for a 40-hour trip to Portland.

INXS, "New Sensation" (Atlantic, 1987)--always. Fun fact: Prince played this on the radio once, while guest-DJ'ing on KMOJ-FM in Minneapolis.

Bossanova, "Rare Brazil" (Teenbeat, 1999)--wrote about this here a few weeks ago.

The Replacements, "I Bought a Headache" (Twin/Tone, 1981)--confession time: I had never heard the first three Replacements albums until I bought the reissues. (No one in Minneapolis sells back the vinyl, Stink apart.) Funny bunch of fuckers.

The Whitest Boy Alive, "Golden Cage (Fred Falke Remix)" (Modular, 2008)--Camaros. Keyboards. Riffs. Yes.

Philip Sherburne, "Salt & Vinegar" (LAN, 2008)--the logrolling continues.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Books I've read or am reading

David Browne, Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth (Da Capo). I reviewed this for The Stranger (I think it runs next issue), but the brief version: amazingly well-reported (I think I learned more about Thurston's and Kim's backgrounds in the first chapter than in the many things I've read elsewhere combined), pretty well written, too bad the last quarter seemed sort of rushed through.

Ken Garner, The Peel Sessions (BBC, U.K.). This is a year old and probably won't be republished in the U.S., so head to Amazon U.K. or, if you're in the PNW, head to Powell's (or the Sonic Boom on 15th, which had a copy a few days ago). This is a rock reference book of the best sort, insane amounts of data and info that you could find online probably but why bother, and Garner does a nice job of turning the ups and downs of a long-running radio program into a fairly compelling narrative--you can read it as an alternate history of British rock, if you like. Or you can just marvel that he got so many people to respond to his queries about their Peel Session. The many quotes could probably have been edited a bit more, but they somehow never intrude.

Alicia Drake, The Beautiful Fall: Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris (Little, Brown and Company). On page 125. So far, this is what I'd hoped for when I bought it two years ago, deeply researched and not uncritical, absorbing without being self-absorbed (Drake, I mean--her subjects are, of course, epically wrapped up in themselves). This is a gang theory book if anything is, which is a kind of automatic win for me, and Drake's a good stylist. I'll try to finish it this week.

Patrick McGilligan, Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends (St. Martin's Griffin). I think I picked this up for three bucks on a street-corner table in NYC about five years ago. It's the kind of book you flip through until something catches your eye, then you read 50 pages. I've read about half the Raoul Walsh Q&A (the first half), a fascinating Ronald Reagan profile (on the presidential campaign trail in 1976), and all the Joel McCrea one (his screen persona isn't that much different than his affable real-life one, how surprising). Definitely need to read the Ida Lupino one next.

Friday, June 06, 2008

I'm always kicking myself for not blogging enough, and then I kick myself for not having anything to blog about, and then I re-read stuff like this bunch of Simon R think pieces about the state of rockcrit at various points over the last decade and just get depressed because he's pretty much right, things come across without necessarily seizing or reaching the way they once did, and that's not just age talking. Then just for kicks I re-read some random posts from Douglas's site from before he went blog and think: Shit! That's what I should do: just write about what I've been doing. So I'll try to. Let's start with today, during which I did . . . absolutely nothing! Back to the drawing board, I guess.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Sometimes Carrie Brownstein's NPR blog is a little staightlaced for me (her Madonna piece, for example), but I doubt I'm going to see anything more dead-on accurate in music writing this year than this lead: "Bo Diddley, legendary guitar player and predecessor of just about everything exciting in rock music, has died at age 79." If you ever have the chance, screen the great lost 1973 concert doc Let the Good Times Roll and, after being bowled over by surprisingly feisty performances by a bevy of rock and roll performers from before the Beatles/Dylan/Motown divide (the Five Satins in particular just melt, and even Chubby Checker is vital), watch the backstage segment with Diddley. The filmmakers follow him to the grocery store, and then to the area behind the venue where he cooks his food. He's been doing it for 20 years, he tells us, because that was the only way you ate if you were black and on tour in the '50s.

And while he was concocting one of the greatest assortment of recordings of the era. Since getting back to the West Coast on Tuesday (two nights in Portland with my friends Jessi and Eric and then back to Seattle on Thursday), I've been on a very early-morning schedule, waking at 8:30 or so every day, usually asleep by 2 a.m. Not sure how that happened, but today I'm glad it did because it afforded me the chance to play both discs of Bo's Chess Box, something I'm never sorry to do anyhow. "Who Do You Love"--still impossibly huge, scary, riveting. "Bring It to Jerome"--still snaky, still entrancing. "Say Man" and its many sequels--an Ace Records compilation is surely in the works now that the big man died.

Bo was the last of the real '50s R&R biggies I got to know decently. Starting around 19 I went through a fairly intensive phase of trying out all the canon-builders: Berry, Richard, Elvis, Jerry Lee, the Everlys, my sainted "5" Royales, and a couple blues guys too. I won't pretend to any sort of encyclopedic knowledge of that era, but I know it pretty well and like it a lot. Bo Diddley stands out immediately, without hesitation--no one else sounds like him, and no one else would have sounded like him even if he hadn't built his body of work on that amazing rhythm, if he'd just motorvated straight ahead like his labelmate Chuck. His voice and timing and his guitar tone are totally unmistakable, and Jerome Green's overamped maracas just upped both the menace and the goofiness. And his figure is unimpeachable: he combined Berry's guitar-coequal approach with rhythmic innovations of the sort James Brown would take a few more years to begin investigating. He was also one of rock's greatest conveyors of basic salaciousness. And he wrote one of the most chilling lines ever sung in a popular song: "Just 22 and I don't mind dying." R.I.P.

New term I just thought of, one I think might be useful: "collective pop." This indicates music made in collective/communal fashion by large groups that are often referred to (sometimes by themselves) as "collectives" rather than "bands." Revolving membership is a near-must; bedroom 4-tracks are common among most members and liberally mined for album tracks. Because socialized medicine in the '00s is very different from drugs in the '70s, nearly every collective pop band is Canadian. Examples: Arcade Fire, Stars, Broken Social Scene, Animal Collective, all their many offshoots.