Gentle Readers in the Wild

Here’s one from the “holy crap” file. I was watching the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations set in his childhood home of New Jersey. At one point, they were in the strip club that you see as the Bada Bing on the Sopranos. While Tony is doing the voiceover and a young lady is grinding on the pole, the music you hear in the background is “How Low” by the Gentle Readers. I shit you not. I rewound it on the DVR, cued up the song in my iTunes and did a head to head comparison. I wasn’t dreaming it, they really used it. Neat, no?

Believe the Hype

Not much blogging lately. After work yesterday, almost immediately we headed towards North Myrtle Beach because Public Enemy was playing the House of Blues. We’re getting on towards the 20th anniversary of when I first saw them live, and they still kicked it. They messed with expectations some by playing several songs without Flava Flav. Just when you had resigned yourself that maybe he was off doing some TV reality show nonsense and that his role would be filled by Professor Griff, he came rolling out on stage and the energy level popped up a notch. They had a three piece backing band that really rocked. I’d never seen them in a configuration like this, which gave the songs high energy but low fidelity to how they sounded on record. Not a problem for me, but might be for some.

There was a point about 30 minutes in where I thought this might have been the best of all the times that I saw them. The middle flagged some, and there was an extended Flava-centric portion that I thought was too much. He’s the cayenne in this gumbo – you miss the kick when he’s not there, but you don’t want to make a meal of just that. The kicked it back up for the last 20 minutes and really finished with a bang. It wasn’t just the hits that were moving me, several of the newer songs that I’d never heard before were some of the best of the night. Next for for them, Austin and SXSW. I’d recommend catching them if you can.

Overall, it was a great show and now us old folks are feeling the effects of it. The crowd on average was pretty middle aged. Lots of people my age, plus or minus a few years. I had actually expected the audience to be overwhelmingly white but it was probably 50/50. All around the Grand Strand, there a sleepy 40 year olds bobbing their heads and reaching for the coffee.

Features, Not Bugs

I’ve been seeing a lot of the blog posts about the death of internet radio with the new exorbitant CARP fees, and I couldn’t have been more shocked and surprised. Internet radio wasn’t already dead?

Doc Searls, of course, has been all over this. This post with reactions includes one that mirrors my opinion. Since the early days of podcasting I’ve been arguing that basing your show around RIAA music is not merely legally questionable, but kind of artistically lame. Why not dig a little deeper in finding the music that the musicians actually want you to play?

Apparently there are internet radio businesses that are going to go out of business new under this fee structure, did not see this coming and have no backup plans. Doc has linked to several of them. That seems like some seriously poor risk management. This eventuality is one the music business has been throwing huge resources into for years, so it didn’t take a crystal ball to predict it. So, the idea of switching to music licensed under Creative Commons or from labels that are friendly to internet promotion has never occurred to these internet radio stations? Podcasters have been working on building out various networks of pre-licensed music for years, but these internet radio guys never thought about it? You’ve got to be kidding me. I find it hard to shed a tear for that kind of lack of vision.

Friends, these are features not bugs. The Big Machine Music wants nothing to do with the internet, so let’s have some reciprocity. The internet, in the form of podcasters, internet radio, MP3 blogs and such should have nothing to do with the Big Machine. Fuck those douchebags. Find internet friendly musicians, labels and organizations and play them. 90% or more of the music being produced is not under control of the RIAA. If you can’t find something you like in that vast majority, you just aren’t trying. If your business fails from your lack of effort, don’t come crying to me.

Update: Doc links in to this post. Thanks Doc. I understand where he is coming from but I come from elsewhere. To him, the whole game is not fun unless he can use the music he is familiar with. Music of Big Familiarity (by that I mean something that would be used for nostalgic reason in a TV commercial) is of decreasing value to me. I cited Laurie Anderson the other day. That’s big label music that matters to me. Captain Beefheart, the Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, John Coltrane, ok. The Beach Boys or the Who or their ilk, not really. To me nowadays, the value is in hearing something that moves me that I’ve never heard before. Discovering Turn Me On Dead Man was way more interesting to me than hearing “Kashmir” for the 17,000th time. I think there is more pop goodness in the music of Paul Melancon than any 10 oldies stations. Doc doesn’t want to dig, but we aren’t talking backhoe work. It’s more like looking at your feet and realizing that you are already standing in it. I’ve been immersed in music my whole adult life and I have access to more of it that moves me today than ever before.

Classic rock terrestrial radio, (apparently) internet radio and Big Music license business all turn on the value of familiarity but to me that’s a hand that’s been overplayed. Now when I walk into the local mall and “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” is playing — like it is 60% of the time — I want to scream. The value of most of the familiar 60’s oldies has sunk below zero for me. They make me want to run out of the building or have the Mrs. Fields kids fill my ears with frosting so I don’t have to hear it. 90% of current music is not under RIAA control. 98% of the music under RIAA control you have never heard. Fighting to the death over the most familiar 2000 songs in a world of millions of them is enough to make Chris Anderson turn over in his grave. Well, to first kill him and then make him turn over.

Doc doesn’t want to dig. Internet radio doesn’t want to shift playlists. Be that as it may, that’s a decision that they have to make for themselves. But, that’s a lot like saying that you are comfortable on the train tracks and taking two steps to the side is just too much work. I’m happy leaving the well graded rail bed for more free-form territory. Was that a whistle I just heard?

Big Science and Little Man

On the most recent Bob’s Slacktime Funhouse, Suzie played what she referred to as “fine Subgenius approved filler”, which was Part 3 of Laurie Anderson’s United States. I haven’t listened to this in a long time but I own it. In fact, I have the 4 LP set on vinyl, as well as the LP of Big Science. Man o man, is this good! When I was in college and beginning to expand my boundaries in musical tastes, Laurie Anderson was a good indicator. To most of my friends, it was so far out there as to be unlistenable. To my WREK friends, it was so normal as to be essentially Top 40. I had imprinted on Ms Anderson a few years earlier, when I still lived in Kansas. In that magical time when we got this new thing called cable TV and it has this magical channel called the USA Network that showed a magical program called “Night Flight”. I saw the video for “O Superman” in my early teens and had a reaction that swung between “WTF is this?” and “This is the coolest thing I have ever seen.”

I saw her play a few times. The first was when my buddy time and I made a road trip to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston to see her. We had free WREK tickets and we had vague plans of trying to interview her that never actually came together. It was a fun time, and we tried to make it a JV version of a beat poet road trip, without much success. In 1993 I was back in Atlanta when she was playing the Roxie in Buckhead. I went to the show, again with Tim, and after the performance she did a signing at Oxford Books a few blocks away. I brought my hardcover copies of the book of United States and also purchased a copy of Stories from the Nerve Bible and got them both signed. The line was hundreds of people deep, the signing didn’t start until 11 PM, and we were near the end of the line. Oxford stayed open extra late to deal with it, and when we got up there she was funny and pleasant despite having done the exact same thing for two hours straight. She drew cartoons in our books and inked her thumb and left prints in our books, and was generally her goofy self.

Good times. When I hear her music, it takes me back to these fun times when I felt edgy just for liking music most people couldn’t stand. I suppose I prefer her earlier, starker material to the fuller workups later on with full bands. Something about “Finnish Farmers” or “Lighting out for the Territories” still gives me chills when I hear them, and gives me the sensation of standing on the brink of an abyss but staring into the void unafraid. That’s some pretty deep emotion for a simple song to instill.

More Atlanta Club Memories

My friend Jon blogs more of his Atlanta rock and roll memories. I don’t remember the Bistro, it must have closed before I moved there in 1985. I did, however, get fabulously drunk as an underaged foolio at Margaritaville more than once, usually while local band The Isotopes were playing. It was right there at Spring Street by 14th, and like Jon we noticed when we we stayed in Midtown last year that the building had been torn down. Before that, it must have sat empty for at least a decade. It was some club briefly after Margaritaville, but nothing seemed to say open after the early 90s.

Oh, and Jon, we’re your Valentines. Just a bunch of middle aged people reminiscing about empty buildings and parking lots.

Apple and DRM

I thought about making an uber linky post about all the various discussions about Steve Jobs and his essay about Apple and selling DRM free music if the record labels would allow it. The longer I wait, the less I care though. My thoughts can be summed up in two points:

1. It’s better to have Apple proposing DRM free music than to have them not but
2. It would be much better to have them just do it than talk about it.

Jobs said he’d sell music without DRM if the labels would allow it. So, allow labels to sell music without DRM. There’s got to be hundreds of thousands of songs in their catalog either without a label (ie, creator published) or from a label that would allow it. How about every song in the catalog that comes in through CD Baby is DRM free? You have this power, so just do it. If you want the big labels to follow suit, force their hands by allowing it for their competitors. I’ll bet that they stepped right up if Apple did this.

James Brown Memorial in Augusta GA

At the site of the James Brown statue in Augusta, GA a memorial has broken out. Flowers, poems, records have been spread upon the base of the statue. Someone wrapped an American flag around his statue like a cape, and people are signing their names on it and leaving goodbye notes. James was always a man of the people, and a few days before he died he was handing out presents to poor kids in the CSRA. He cared about the people, and the people respond in kind.

RIP, James Brown

James Brown has died at age 73. There was a time that you might have said the Beatles or Dylan were the most influential artists on music, but if you spin your radio dial up and down today you will hear echoes of James Brown everywhere. He was a great artist, a deeply flawed man and someone whose memory and legacy will live on a very long time.

Tomorrow we’re driving to his hometown for the holidays. We will have a moment of reflection for him.

Turkish Pop

When in Portland, I had dinner with my friend Nev with whom I worked at Intel several lifetimes ago. We would occasionally swap CDs in the office. I lent him Michelle Malone (this obsession is not new) and he lent me Nazan Oncel – kind of a Turkish analog to Michelle, at least on Sokak Kızı which is the album I heard back then.

Nev is in some ways my hero. He quit Intel about a year or two after I did, but has managed to go a big chunk of a decade without needing a day job. By day trading and selling some of his Intel stock, he has stayed afloat and occasionally dabbled in entrepreneurial pursuits. Being a dork, though, one of his projects was to digitize his entire CD collection. He did that, and when he had dinner he gave me a DVD that he had burned for me with hundreds of CDs worth of Turkish pop MP3s, including several Nazan albums. Thank you Nev! Hell, I might even play a little of this on upcoming clambakes. I can’t understand a word, but I dig it. The one time I met Bruce Sterling in person at a book signing, we talked briefly about Turkish pop culture. He has a great love for Turkish Cypress.

Dixie Chicks and PBS

Last night An Evening with the Dixie Chicks was on PBS. I recorded it with the DVR and am watching it today. Bless you, little DVR. Pledge drive programming on PBS is watchable again! Bob help you if you don’t have one and have to sit through the mind-numbing faux populism of the on-air pledge shills. Considering that every public broadcasting organization I know of has the goal of becoming an ever bigger machine, the whole “You are one of us” schtick falls pretty flat to my cynical ears. Now that Georgia Public Broadcasting is trying to bully WREK off the air during the day, trading the latter’s unique programming for the former’s commodity widely-available-elsewhere NPR slate, I’m embarrassed that I ever gave money to GPB. I wish I could take it back.

And as far as the Dixie Chicks go, I wasn’t a big fan until Home which I bought on a whim one day and really enjoyed. When the whole political thing started, I should have bought one more album every time I heard of some anti-Chick rally. It’s nice to see that it doesn’t take much to bring the barely buried prejudices and misogyny of the country scene to the surface. Even if I didn’t like their music, if Toby Keith hates you then you must be doing something right.

Creative Commons Filk

Lazy web request from an exhausted and overwhelmed man. I hope to put together my first Orycon episode of the podcast in the next few days and I’d like to get some good filk and/or fannish music to go along with it. I would appreciate it if someone could please point me to a resource with such music that is offerered under a Creative Commons or other reuse friendly license. I know I could look this up myself but I’m up to the keister in crocodiles. Thanks in advance, friends and fen.

Her Hair Was Long and Mangy

From a story on the last show at CBGB:

“Is this a funeral for punk rock?” a reporter asked Patti Smith. She was conducting a kind of press-conference-slash-sound-check from the stage of CBGB & OMFUG Sunday night. It was the club’s last night.

“That is too much of a fuckin’ stupid question to even answer,” said Ms. Smith.

Via Pam’s House Blend

For an alternate, non-sentimental and non-canonizing look at CBGB, here is the mighty Jon Kincaid on the club closing that really mattered to him. JFK taking on the myth of CBGB! A man who refuses to talk about it as if it is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Now that is punk.

RIP, Freddy Fender

Sadly, Baldemar “Freddy Fender” Huerta died today at the age of 69. I saw him play several times, and every time was enjoyable. After my father died, my brother and I made a pilgrimage to Biloxi MS for a weekend to gamble in his honor and spread his ashes on the beach. While there, I saw Freddy play at a casino I’m quite certain was destroyed by Katrina. It was a great show, and I must have been the youngest person there by a good 15 years. He lived a hard life but when he hit the stage he played hard and was a great entertainer. He will be missed.

DIG!

We finally watched DIG! tonight. It was as good as my friend Chris led me to believe. I’ve always liked the Brian Jonestown Massacre when I’ve heard their music although I’ve never bought any of their records. I like the whole retro sparse Velvet Underground drone thing, so they are right in that pocket. I didn’t know any of the backstory of their crazy reputation or anything about Anton Newcombe. The movie makes him seem a lot like a cracked genius, but as much as I enjoyed the film it was immediately suspect on its balance. When your film is a narrative about the artistic tension between two people and one of them narrates the movie, that’s an issue.

Anton, as one might could predict, disavows the film. Most of what he says in there makes sense, so maybe he has some valid points. Whatever happened between the making of the film and now, it couldn’t have been too traumatic for relations between BJM and the Dandy Warhols because they played together in PDX and Seattle yesterday and the day before. I’ve always liked the Dandy Warhols music as well, even if they lack the raw mad genius of BJM.

I do give Anton the credit for being the kind of person who sits down and gets it done in the studio. He and his band have been freakishly prolific over the last decade. I do also see how the filmmakers have to cut something together out of their 1500 hours of footage, and it helps if a narrative emerges. It’s a little unfair to criticize them for making choices – that’s what everyone has to do to make a movie or an album or whatever. It seems like Newcombe would be one of those guys that would be horrible to have as a friend or colleague. As a Dandy said in the film (my paraphrase), “I’m not sharing a dressing room with them, I don’t want to be around them, but I’ll keep buying their records.”

Galaxie 500

I’m listening to an archived copy of Jon Kincaid’s Personality Crisis radio show and on it he played all Galaxie 500 music for his 2 hours. Wow, I haven’t listened to them in at least a decade but I’d forgotten how good they are. Hearing their music makes me feel like I’ve just woken from a dream — or maybe that I haven’t quite woken up yet and I’m still dreaming. The show is old enough to have already rolled out of the WREK archives, but dang it was a good one.

Good Earwig

Ever since I did the last show, I’ve had that Blowoff song “Hormone Love” stuck in my head. That’s a pretty benign invasion since it is a fantastic song. Although I like Mould when he is dissonant and angry and bleak, between Blowoff and Sugar you have to admit that he can craft some amazing pop music that both rocks and is catchy as all hell.

Psychocandy

I was just expressing my appreciation for the Jesus and Mary Chain and how refreshing I found their albums, coming in the dark days of radio hair metal during the mid to late 80’s. I recently heard some of those songs for the first time in a while and was struck all over again how good they are. Much like the Sonic Youth of the same time period, they made noise accessible and enjoyable. Via WREK I heard a lot of the unadulterated stuff back then and mostly couldn’t take it. When it was married up with just enough pop sensibility ala “Just Like Honey” I was all over it. I only saw them one time in the 90’s with Mazzy Star opening up and it was a good enough show but those albums are really where they were at.

I have a highly uncommercial band concept – a Jesus and Mary Chain tribute band. Maybe you could get a Skinny Puppy tribute band to open at your sparsely attended gigs in deranged venues.