Monday, May 28, 2007

The Memories Fire: 10 Years After The Death Of Jeff Buckley

The Wolf River in Tennessee is located north of downtown Memphis. It’s a tributary of the Mississippi, which makes it somewhat notorious. The other thing about the Wolf River that makes it even more notorious is that Jeff Buckley drowned in its waters, ten years ago today.
I probably learned of Buckley’s death well after I arrived home from work on the following day. His music didn’t get a tremendous amount of airplay around Southeast Iowa, so it would make sense that the radio stations didn’t mention word of his death.
Ironically, it was while working at a radio station in the same area that I discovered Jeff Buckley. The Top 40 station I worked for was about a mile-and-a-half away from the Mississippi river too; it even had a Highway 61 address, which made it kind of rock ‘n’ roll in my mind.
I was in charge of adding the music to the station’s format, a task I’m fairly sure that isn’t done locally anymore, thanks to all of those Clear Channel purchases.
The job was fairly easy: I took calls from the promotional departments of record companies and listened to their pitches as to what new songs they hoped I would add to the station’s playlist. Sometimes I listened to the things they wanted me to consider but the majority of the time, I didn’t.
In the fall of ’94, my station received a promotional cd copy of Jeff Buckley’s Grace. Being somewhat familiar with the work of his father, Tim Buckley (meaning: I knew who he was and that he had been dead for many years), I listened to the disc and read through the obligatory bio sheet that Columbia Records had created to entice me.
The label was focusing their promotional efforts on the lead-off single, “Last Goodbye,” which was already starting to receive some significant airplay on alternative stations across the country. Clearly, the brass at Columbia smelled a potential hit and began servicing the track to more commercial stations like the one I was working for.
I didn’t know if the song would be a crossover hit and, to be honest, I didn’t care. By the second verse of “Last Goodbye,” it became clear that his voice was capable of otherworldly heights.
Regardless of whether or not it would become a “hit,” I felt that we needed to play it.
I put “Last Goodbye” in the lunar rotation section of the station’s current playlist, with the hope that my boss wouldn’t have a problem with it. He usually didn’t like me adding a song without any research backing it up. “Research,” by the way, meant having a larger, more influential stations add it first, providing me with a legitimate reason why our station was playing it.
I figured that if I added it to just the nighttime playlist, which also happened to be the times when he wasn’t at the station, there was a good chance he wouldn’t notice it.
He didn’t and, sadly, not very many other commercial stations did either. The song stiffed fairly quickly; I kept it in the rotation for six weeks before finally admitting defeat.
In case you’re wondering, the number one song in the country during that time was Boys II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You.”
It’s also important to consider what I was actively listening to during this time. In the fall of 1994, I was pretty fanatical about the Jesus Lizard, Barkmarket, and Kyuss. Obviously, every one of those aggro-rock selections is pretty far from what Buckley was doing, but as knuckle-dragging as my tastes may have appeared to be, I was smart enough to understand that Buckley was something special.
It appears that I wasn’t the only one around that time who immersed themselves in post-Nirvana distortion: Grace failed to give Columbia Records the out-the-gate sales that they anticipated. In fact, it took eight years before the album finally received a gold reward for selling 500,000 units.
While Buckley’s sales figures weren’t enough to qualify him as a runaway hit, his talents were great enough for those who initially supported him to share the music with others. As Jeff struggled with the daunting prospect of starting to work on his second album, word of mouth spread and his fan base continued to grow. Just when a larger audience was beginning to discover him, Buckley decided to test the dirty waters of the Wolf River.
His death, it goes without saying, did wonders for his career. Suddenly, the Brandon Lee posters that covered the walls of many female dorm rooms were replaced with the brooding images of a recently deceased Jeff Buckley.
I can’t blame them either: Jeff was a handsome sonofabitch.
For those of us who were more impressed with his talent, there was only an album and an e.p. to examine. This was quickly addressed: In the 10 years since his death, Buckley’s mother, Mary Guibert, has authorized a number of posthumous options (some of them questionable) to choose from.
Most will want to consider the material that Buckley was working on during the time of his death. Sketches (For My Sweetheart, The Drunk) compiles the nearly-finished album that Tom Verlaine produced along with the demos that Jeff worked on in Memphis after he decided to pass on the Verlaine sessions. For me, the Verlaine sessions are quite good and it lifts Sketches to the level of a worthwhile release.
The demo recordings that comprise disc two are minimally revelatory and, at times, feel like Buckley wouldn’t appreciate us listening to it; they are obviously blueprints for material he wanted to examine further before releasing them to the public.
At their worst, they feel just as exploitive as Cobain’s Journals.
An even more recommended posthumous title is the Legacy Edition of Live at Sin-é. Expanded from a four-song e.p. into a two disc set, the release features material from two separate performances. This is Jeff continuing to hone his skills at Sin-é, even after signing with Columbia, a venue that allowed him to explore different material in a very intimate and laid-back environment. The reissue benefits from the expansion as we get a longer glance at a young man who’s in complete control of his vocal abilities and his stage presence, even before he’s found a band or released a record.
As far as the other posthumous titles, well, let’s just say that Guibert is treading on some exploitive practices. Eight titles, both new releases and expanded re-issues, have found their way into Buckley’s catalog in the ten years since he passed. With any artist that is taken so quickly, there is an overwhelming desire to want every shred of recorded evidence that they created. At the same time, there is a need for some kind of balance. Matching the quality and the significance of the performances against the eventual perception of “scraping the bottom of the barrel” is important when managing the release schedule of an artist that’s no longer with us.
I understand this; I have considered the repetition of The Grace EPs box set,
the live posthumous selections (Mystery White Boy and Live At L’Olympia), and the obligatory early recordings (Songs To No One). At the end of the day, it’s all merely pointless fodder that feebly attempts to cover up the reality that Buckley offered us so little material to consider while he was still alive.
So while I’ve effectively ended my need for additional Cobain material, I’m not through with Buckley. It’s hard to debate his genius as a vocalist, but for me, Buckley provided something more: a musical diversion to finally offset the events of April 8, 1994. Even though my sonic landscape at the time was clearly paved with Nirvana’s four chord blast, it was Jeff Buckley’s four octave range that helped remind me that there were other generational talents to contemplate after Kurt Cobain.
But like Cobain, we never got a full picture of what Buckley would have ended up accomplishing because of one misguided dip in waters that the true locals knew enough to stay out of.
I’m expecting Buckley’s catalog to continue to grow, particularly when a biopic is currently being considered. Not only will it enhance Buckley’s deadsexy image and spawn additional fans, it will remind me, like this somber anniversary does , that I’m still not ready to believe he left us with so little…and so long ago.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


The particulars:
Name: Callista Renae
Weight: 7 lbs 12 oz
Height: 21.25 inches
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Blue
Date of Landing: May 25, 2007
Latitude: 42.008
Longitude: -91.643
First Impressions of Earth: 7:56 pm
Introduction Music: Pink Floyd “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”*
Interests: Sleeping & Titties
Favorite Quote: “Nobody puts baby in a corner.”

The story:

About fifteen minutes after I arrived at work on Friday, I received a call from the SLF. Typically, if it’s a non-emergency, she’ll just send a text with the understanding that when it’s “time to go,” she would actually call. The call turned out to be the “time to go” variety; her water broke fifteen minutes before.
After letting the appropriate authorities know of my reason for leaving, I went home to collect the SLF, the excited-yet-oblivious E, and some already packed clothes for the stay.
We arrived at St. Luke’s at 9:00 am and passed the “Yes, your water has indeed ruptured” test which enabled us to get access into a delivery room. Once there, things progressed fairly slowly until around 2:30 when the bigger contractions started. An epidural was started and we waited some more while Beth enjoyed the drugs.
Things hit a standstill until 5:30 when the labor reached intense proportions. With the regular nurse on dinner break, the covering nurse prepared us that the show might really be starting. I put in disc one of a two disc compilation set I made called “Babymaker.” The idea was to determine the baby’s introduction music by whatever track the delivery took place on. The music was on fairly low, but I did notice that David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” started to skip and, occasionally, began playing over and over…or at least the first 45 seconds of it did.
I went over to the cd player, a shitty JVC boombox system with preset eqs (jazz, pop, classical, flat, etc.) and put in disc two.
I noticed that the baby’s heart rate remained strong outside of the contractions and dipped dangerously low during the contractions. The attending nurse noticed me watching this and assured me not to get too freaked out by such low dips in baby’s heart rate.
The doctor arrived and waited for the SLF to go from 9.5 cm to the full 10 cm. After an hour of this and with the contractions getting even more intense, the doctor bluntly stated “Guys, we need to get things moving here and get the baby.”
I had no idea what that meant, but as soon as I saw the SLF’s reaction, I knew what he was talking about wasn’t good.
We didn’t want a cesarean, but with baby’s heart rate staying lower for longer periods, it was necessary for the her health.
They immediately started to dismantle the bed and monitors while shoving paperwork at me for her to sign. Seriously. Like I would be able to get her to stop contracting and start to fill out their paperwork. Seconds before being transported down the hall to the operating room, the SLF threw down a halfassed John Hancock to allow the hospital to do a procedure that we didn’t even want them to do.
I was provided with scrubs and told to wait in the recovery room while the SLF was taken into the operating room to be prepped for surgery. By now, her epidurals were completely wearing off and I could hear her yelling from across the hall. With a cesarean in the picture, she was told not to push the baby along; thereby going against all of the natural urges that her body was telling her.
Occasionally, someone would come over to explain what was going on (“We’re waiting for anesthesia. They should be here in just a couple more minutes. Then you can come in.”) A “few minutes” turned into over a half hour of me hearing the reverberating cries in the hallway, leaving me alone to cry and worry about the unknown.
The doctor stopped in to notice this and asked if I was a little freaked out.
I’m not sure if he took offense, like I was somehow questioning his ability as a doctor to ensure that both Mother and baby would be fine after the surgery, but he asked “Why” I was so freaked.
Maybe because just a few minutes ago everything was Kool & The Gang, but then everyone rushed to the operating room like it was Ice Castles starring Robbie Benson.
I don’t know what that means; I’m really tired as I write this.
After forty minutes, the anesthesiologist arrives (the same one that applied the epidural) and I’m offered a spot in the operating room.
“You’re going to notice a lot of blue in the operating room, and those are sterile items that you should not touch.” The nurse explained. “Are you a little squeamish around blood?” She asked as we headed towards the door.
“I guess we’ll find out” I offered back.
“Then you probably want to look towards the right as we make our way in because they’ve already started the procedure.”
Of course, with that bit of information I had to look towards the car wreck that was my 3 week old bride with an incision right along her waist line.
They brought me towards her head where she was strapped down in a spreadeagle Christ pose with a protective sheet preventing us from seeing what they were doing around her tummy. She looked at me and started crying, as if to apologize for all of the sudden drama that evening.
I started crying again just because I was happy that she was alright.
The anesthesiologist provided us with a play-by-play as to what was happening downstairs, but in reality, I could make out what was happening. When the doctor asked the nurse if she was “pushing up,” I understood that she was trying to push the baby’s head back up as it had already started to make some progress down. The doctor got, literally, on top of the table to get a better angle at reaching into my SLF’s uterus and grabbing the baby. After a few moments of struggle, there was a flurry of activity as another nurse rushed the baby over to another table to assist it with its first breaths.
“It’s a girl!” He said, before starting the process of sewing up the large gape that was now like a pothole in my SLF’s Netherlands.
The doctor explained that the baby’s umbilical cord was tied completely in a knot (she continually kicked and flipped while she was inside of Mommy) and had started to progress downward in such a way that her neck was crooked. Both of these things contributed to the baby’s low heart rate during the contractions; she was losing oxygen every time she was getting squeezed through and there was no guarantee that she would have been able to make it all the way through a natural childbirth.
They asked if I wanted to go over and take pictures, but I understood that in doing so, I would have to walk past the car crash that was the cesarean again. I wasn’t about to do that.
Thankfully, one of the attending nurses did a stand up job at taking my camera and snapping a few photos for me while the SLF and I cried. She wanted a daughter and her tears turned to ones of joy when she heard the words “It’s a girl!”
After a few minutes, I stepped over a dozen or so towels soaked with blood and went back to the recovery room with our daughter while they stitched up the SLF.
She was very quiet, crying only to let us know she’d arrived and that it was cold and then calming observing the world around her. She cried when they took off her blanket to do footprints and really wailed when she received her vitamin k shot. I stood and watched helpless as my girl experienced pain for the first time on Earth.
I sat and rocked my daughter, crying as I got to spend some alone time with her before Mommy arrived. The cesarean prevented things like blotchy skin and coneheads while allowing her natural beauty to stand out, just like she had been plucked directly from the uterus.
Which is exactly how it happened.
After an hour in recovery, we made the obligatory phone calls and finally made our way back into our room. Since we never gave birth there, the mix cds that I made were, essentially, worthless in the end. Just for shits and giggles, I calculated from the time I started the second disc to the actual delivery time of 7:56 pm and figured out that Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” would have been playing had we stayed in the original room. For all intensive purposes, the cd player did continue to play during the birth process. There just wasn’t anyone there to hear it.
I’m posting this on the MySpace page as well and will continue to provide the more mundane follow up posts there. My posts in general may diminish some in the coming months as I’m learning firsthand how newborns don’t subscribe to any rational time schedule. I’ve got a full schedule of stuff ready for June’s Glam-Racket, but I may choose to use the time to finish it to sleep instead. I’m learning that you get sleep when you can.
Ultimately, the event was completely fucking life altering that I cannot adequately describe it. I’ll sit with my daughter for hours on end and it feels like seconds have passed. I think of her and tears automatically start welling up. I look at my SLF and understand what a great Mommy she’ll be, just like she is with E. And he gets so excited around his baby sister that, again, I start to feel like crying again. They drew blood from her toes last night and he watched it. He instinctively told the nurse to stop hurting his sister, which I hope is a behavior that he’ll carry on as they both get older.
Logically, I know we’ll probably end with her. With E and Cali, we’ve got a perfect blend of siblings and given the dramatic events of her childbirth it’s something that I don’t want to go through again. However, whenever I’m holding her, watching her, smelling her “baby fresh” scent, all I can think about it how totally fucking wonderful life is and how excited I am at getting a chance to see not one, but now two adorable little ones grow up and find a cure for rock ‘n’ roll pneumonia.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Happy Birthday, Klaus Meine

Happy birthday, Klaus Meine, you hard rockin' Scorpions mother fucker! God, you're awesome! And I say that without a hint of sarcasm. Seriously: Animal Magnetism rules and Blackout is even better! And I dig Lovedrive and Love At First Sting too. Lady Killers....not so much. I mean, what were you guys thinking when you agreed to put a naked pre-pubescent girl on the cover?! Seriously! That's crazy!
But that's one of the reasons why I like you. Sometimes I think that the Scorpions are so intent on rocking that they don't really think things out completely. And when you guys do think things out, we get something like "Wind Of Change."
You should hear my impersonation of that song; I changed the lyrics and everything! It goes:
"Follow little squirrel
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind
Of change."
It's pretty funny, and I can sound just like you too!
I also do a good version of "Loving You Sunday Morning" and I'm not too shabby at "Arizona."
Which reminds me: that's another reason why I like you guys. The fact that English is your second language makes for some kick ass lyrics, even when I don't fuck with them at all!
Like "Arizona"
"Arizona really was a gas
I was screwed up, in a total mess
Mind blowing all the way, you know
Just out of sight"
That's awesome!
I'm probably best know for my rendition of your stage banter during World Wide Live. When I worked at a call center, I used to break out Klaus all the time, primarily using the line "Do you see the microphones in the air? Do you see them?! We are making a live recording here tonight!" There was only one other manager who got it and thought it was funny.
Anyway, I just wanted to publicly wish you a happy 59th (!) birthday today and I hope that you have many more great memories to look forward to. You and the rest of the Scorpions have certainly provided me with some great memories of my own and I appreciate everything that you've done.
Well, except for "Wind Of Change." That pretty much sucked.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sex Pistols - The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle

When you do a quick search of ‘The Sex Pistols’ on Amazon, you’ll find over a hundred results. Pretty impressive for a band that only managed one full-length during their two-and-a-half years together.
Of course, the primary reason why there’s such an influx of posthumous Pistols releases is because Never Mind The Bullocks is an undeniable classic album; not one track sucks and not one record collection should be without it.
So it’s no surprise that people who absolutely love Bullocks will go out of their way to find some sort of additional revelation, rehearsal, or lost track that the band might have laid to tape during their brief existence.
The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle was the Sex Pistols’ first official posthumous release, if you allow the notion that a Malcolm McLaren project could be considered “official.” You’ve got to hand it to the guy: he never lied to fans that his ultimate intention was to swindle them, and that’s exactly what this soundtrack album does.
Oh, did I neglect to mention that The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle was a movie too?
Indeed. And it’s an even bigger piece of shit than the soundtrack itself.
Spanned over a two record set is, essentially, a half-dozen “true” Sex Pistols songs, most of which are outtakes and cover versions. Hardly revelatory, the songs instead point to the overlooked admission that the band was a pretty good rock band that had a fairly respectable list of influences (Chuck Berry, The Modern Lovers, and The Who).
“But they don’t even finish them!” You say.
Professionalism aside, it’s a hell of a lot more fun than the symphonic versions of “God Save The Queen” or “EMI” that are included, or Ten Pole Tudor’s retarded version of “Who Killed Bambi.”
Or a Pistols disco-medley titled “Black Arabs.”
Or Malcolm McLaren self-indulgent “You Need Hands.”
Or some French street performers’ rendition of “Anarchy.”
Or the Paul Cook and Steve Jones’ notion that they could continue on the Sex Pistols name by simply replacing Rotten with the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs on lead vocals.
Yeah, he makes a couple of appearances too; It’s as stupid as you could imagine.
Various Pistols contribute some solo material, all of which is fairly pedestrian with the exception of the infamous version of “My Way” by Sid Vicious. The single version included here is a hoot, and his rendition of “C’Mon Everybody” and “Something Else” only reaffirms Sid’s musical deficiency (he can’t carry a tune and he doesn’t play a note on any of these tracks).
“Belsen Was A Gas,” a (ironically) Vicious-penned Pistols outtake, also makes an appearance and it may qualify as being one of the most frightening tracks that the band has ever done.
With just a handful of arguably worthy tracks, Swindle manages to sink lower that even its title would suggest. Devoid of power, lacking the humor it desperately tries to achieve, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle is not only first official Sex Pistol release after the band’s crash; it’s also punk rock’s first novelty record.

The Broken West - I Can't Go On, I'll Go On

So a few months ago, a friend calls up and asks if I'm going to go see a band that I've never even heard of before. It turns out the band recently signed to Merge and, because the label is fairly consistent quality-wise, the interest is peaked.
A quick visit to the band's MySpace page proves to be enough to consider the drive to the club.
The review of their show can be found here.
Being a good supporter of bands on the road, I shelled out the twelve bucks for the band's debut lp which is reviewed below.
Recently, the SLF was watching Grey's Anatomy which is usually my cue that I'll have to go down to the basement if I'm going to be able to watch anything remotely entertaining.
As I'm making my way down, I hear the familiar sounds of The Broken West's "Down In The Valley."
"Hey, that's The Broken West!" I say.
"Shh! I'm trying to watch this!" Was the reply.
With any luck, maybe a few Grey's Anatomy fans became interested in the song and sought out the album. With any luck, maybe the review below will peak your interest and consider checking the band out.
They're proving to be quite the road hogs: the tour continues throughout June (with dates scheduled with Fountains of Wayne) as they press onward in promoting I Can't Go On, I'll Go On.

Given power-pop’s track record of posting lousy sales, it says something about any band that chooses it as their primary influence. The genre itself prompts such a primeval reaction among its supporters that it’s completely logical when a band gets caught up and starts bashing out their slight interpretation of it.
The Broken West’s interpretation of power pop adds a big tablespoon of their Los Angeles history to it, which makes their debut long-player I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On fairly unique for a genre that typically prides itself on staying close to the bone.
Don’t get me wrong: The Broken West aren’t reinventing the wheel here. Instead, the performances grab the wheel and take you on a journey down Laurel Canyon Boulevard on the way towards the Paisley Underground.
Previously known as The Brokedown, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On features twelve glistening tracks just like a scratchy old Big Star record, complete with era-perfect production that make it seem like the year Radio City was first pressed.
Frontman Ross Flournoy comes across fairly nondescript in many of the songs, but the rest of the band manages to cut the slack with spirited performances throughout. The up-tempo tunes are filled with all the appropriate harmonies, rhythmic piano, handclaps and guitar pedals that one expects of the genre. More importantly: they know what notes and effects not to play which ultimately prevents I Can’t Go On from becoming less of a period-piece homage and more like a cliff note’s version of the history of L.A. power-pop. Or as Flournoy puts it during “Like A Light:” “You were right about me stealing all my songs/From the ones I never learned.”
Flournoy’s vocals are better suited during the album’s more intimate moments. On tracks like “Abigail” and “Baby On My Arm,” his voice blends perfectly with the overall mood by becoming “that guy:” the boyfriend sitting on some driftwood in front of a beach bonfire, unpretentiously singing and strumming an acoustic guitar while his girlfriend lovingly watches across the flickering flames.
The highlight, “Down In The Valley,” actually made its first appearance on The Brokedown e.p., The Dutchman’s Gold, a few years ago. Thankfully included here, “Down In The Valley” is a song so good that it segues perfectly into a classic like “September Gurls” and would ultimately stop you from being pissed if the rest of the album sucked.
It doesn’t. And I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On might be the perfect album to create some great memories to over the summer. That’s understandable: The Broken West sound like they’ve got some great memories of their own.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise
Band photo courtesy of their MySpace page.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Thanks to some unacceptable delays in whoever is running Wilco’s online store, I was forced to read the reviews of an album that I’d ordered weeks ago prior to actually being able to listen to it myself. Nothing says “Thanks, fans!” like letting the fucking big box outlets get your new shit before the people that actually support your endeavors.

So, from what I read, I was prepared for Sky Blue Sky to be Wilco’s homage to seventies rock, their most mature album to date, their most “straightforward” record to date and, my favorite, their “dad rock” album.
And while most listeners who’ve weaned themselves on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost Is Born will find Sky Blue Sky dull and unimaginative, and while most listeners who whined and wished that Wilco might someday return to their Americana roots will herald Sky Blue Sky as a return to form, both complaints and comparisons are too easy to attach to it.

At its core, and as it’s acknowledged in the making-of documentary that’s included with the deluxe edition (invest the extra few bucks and get it), Sky Blue Sky is the sound of a band getting together and creating music.
For some of us, that’s a pretty welcomed road, particularly when you consider how chaotic things are around us. Think of it this way: if you were in a band like Wilco, what’s the best way to escape the bullshit of life? The answer, of course, is to get together with the fellas and make music.

Hats off to new guitarist Nels Cline for providing such an understated and generous performance; he’s the band’s best guitarist and, thankfully, he doesn’t feel the need to show off about it. Instead, he brings the band towards more “jam band” territories, but just to the point where you’re starting to pick up on it.

Occasionally, he’ll throw in a little Tom Verlaine phrasing to make things sound a little out of the ordinary.
What makes the initial reaction to Sky Blue Sky so frustrating is how polarizing the band can be, even when they released their most straightforward and mellow album to date.

We saw some complaining after Yankee. We saw the complaints rise even more after Ghost. And now we’re seeing it after Sky Blue Sky. The fact is, there wouldn't have been any complaints if this album were released after Being There. But when it comes after their most complexing album (Ghost) then suddenly the floodgates are open because the band decides to take a break from experimentation and just play their instruments.

However, if they start cruising through the rest of middle age with albums like this, then perhaps we'll have a problem. But for now, the subtleties within the grooves of Sky Blue Sky are a welcomed rest stop and as challenging as if they'd upped the aural experimentations.

Because they've taken a step back from the studio trickery, Sky Blue Sky is a more consistent album than A Ghost Is Born and more fully realized too. Not only is it good enough to become the soundtrack for this summer's cookouts or moonlight drives, it's good enough for the band to retain their title as America's best rock band.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Happy Birthday, Joey Ramone

A week and a half ago, I stayed up later than I should. You see, I was taking advantage of some quiet time here at the house during those hours when Mother and child were both fast asleep. It is during these times in which I listen to music without interruptions or distraction, watch what I want to watch under similar environments, update Glam-Racket, write reviews, whatever. It's my time. I do whatever the fuck I want.
Anyway, Rock And Roll High School came on around midnight, and so I invested the ninety minutes or so that it would require of me because, well because it's the fucking Ramones. Sure, I'd seen it a few times, but it's been years since I'd watched it last.
Immediately following it was the Ramones documentary Raw. I'd never seen that movie; I've heard it was good, but I never bothered to buy/rent it since I already own the documentary End Of The Century and, as good as that movie is, considered it to be the "definitive" Ramones movie.
Nonetheless, I felt obligated to the "brothers" that I should invest another ninety minutes to watch it and prepare myself for the inevitable sleep deprivation that would surely arrive the follow day.
It was worth my body's investment and it reminded me of how great they were and how unfair it is that a full 3/4 of the original members are no longer with us.
With Dee-Dee being such a beautiful fuck up and Johnny being such a frustrating Republican, it's easy to feel bad that they aren't around while feeling a little frustrated with how they both lived their lives when they were with us.
Joey, on the other hand, was a guy that you could definitely admire and champion; if there isn't a better example of someone who's life was saved by rock and roll, I'm hard pressed to name one now. Marred with physical ailments, a strange appearance, and enough misdiagnosis to almost certainly lead him down a life of unseen potential, Joey ignored his lack of musical abilities and pressed ahead with that barely visible light that rock and roll can change your life.
All of these "flaws," ironically, would lead Joey towards a place where they actually served as positive attributes. The Ramones became the perfect vehicle for him and they world became a better place because of it.
Years after his death, a street in the village of New York City was named on his behalf. Befitting, I suppose, since he ultimately helped change the course of rock and roll for the better.
Joey Ramone would have turned 55 years old tomorrow.

Sesame Street Live: Super Grover, Ready For Action! Live Review

Sesame Street Live: Super Grover, Ready For Action!
U.S. Cellular Center
May 15, 2007

Hey, I review ‘em as I see ‘em and concerts for Totale are a thing of the past for a while. So what the fuck: here’s a show that E wanted to check out, even though he didn’t know about it until we pulled up to the U.S. Cellular Center about thirty minutes before showtime.
If you’re kid-less or have no interest whatsoever in seeing a Sesame Street Live performance, all I can say is that I was like you at one time. But after you’re dragged kicking and screaming to your first Sesame Street event and can watch firsthand the sheer joy that it presents to every 2, 3, or 4 year old in attendance, then you don’t know what you’re missing.
Allow me to enlighten you.
First of all, the things aren’t as commercialized as you might think. Sure, there’s plenty of merchandizing available and sure, it’s somewhat pricey, but it’s nowhere near the ass-rape that you might expect or currently get at typical music concerts ($40 for a concert tee? Fuck you!). There’s plenty of shit for kids to get, but savvy and/or strict parents can find excuses to get around them.
One of the strangest things, aside from the audience make up, is the layout of the venue. Bleachers are pulled out to allow for better toddler viewing ability, and (seriously) retired women are placed at strategic points around the stage to prevent overly-amped kids from running up on stage to hug the larger-than-life Muppets. The only time I saw one of these security grandmothers was when a three year old boy tried to go backstage via a ground level curtain after the show was over.
The shows themselves consist of musical numbers around a pretty light story plot. The plot for this tour centered on Grover; his superhero persona had lost his superpowers and the rest of the Sesame Street Characters were enlisted to help find it. The plot left plenty of room for more familiar Sesame Street vignettes like Journey To Ernie and Elmo’s World. Incidentally, even though the show placed Grover on the marquee, it was clearly Elmo as the star of the show. Over half of the speaking roles and storylines involved that annoying red fucker. It makes sense: when Elmo first made an appearance on stage, you could hear a collective squeal from the two year olds. Since E is now approaching 4, he was more impressed with Grover’s physical comedy.
Sesame Street Live usually incorporates one overly positive and happy human, and for Ready For Action! it was a short woman in her late twenties/early thirties named Kay. Kay assumed many different roles and, for each one, she maintained a frightening smile that most kids didn’t notice. They were too enraptured by the life-size Muppets running around the stage.
Muppets regularly make their way out into the crowd, typically a few seconds before they’re needed for the dance routine, backing vocals in the number or speaking role. This gives them a chance to shake the kids’ hands and do quick little poses for the digital camera (yes, cameras are allowed).
I noticed a few Mothers who took advantage of the beer at the concessions and, to be honest, completely understood the need for them to have a couple; most of them brought the kids (and it was typically more than one) to the show, and with as much extra-sensory activities going on, it was no wonder they needed a nip or two.
Halfway through the performance, the smell of fecal matter drifted up towards our section. An audience member had gotten too excited with the action on stage to take a potty break and for some reason their guardian did not notice the smell.
Maybe it was one of the kids with the beer drinking Mom.
The show features a fairly tepid light show, one in which the kids find totally mesmerizing. It’s quite a site to see a crowd full of toddlers looking up, slack jawed, at the different lighting effects while Ernie sings some bullshit about living on the moon.
The kids completely freak during the faster numbers, as most of the characters encourage audience participation. The kids, naturally, oblige by tearing ass towards the stage (but never managing to get past Grandma’s security team) before relinquishing their groove to the aisles and on top of their chairs. It’s fucking awesome to watch. E especially liked the character’s re-write of “I’m Holding Out For A Hero,” possibly because the original was included in one of the Shrek movies, which he’s seen a million times.
It was Elmo and three b-level monsters (Zoë, Telly, and Rosita) that ultimately come up with the answers that help Grover retrieve his super powers. By eating right, getting plenty of rest, exercising regularly practicing good hygiene, Grover discovers that he can tackle every day problems.
The kids didn’t give a shit; they just wanted to see their favorite characters in the “flesh.”
For 90 minutes (and that includes a 15 minute intermission) the less-than-half filled arena got a chance to see the “real” Muppets and, if E’s initial experience with Elmo’s Coloring Book from a year-and-a-half ago is any indication, they won’t forget the show. Since that time, he’s seen the Ringling Brothers’ and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the U.S. Cellular, Center, yet every time we drive by it, he yells “Hey! That’s where Sesame Street Live is!” It then takes some additional explaining that, no, we cannot stop to see them because, no, they are not inside. Fairly recently, he’s started to comprehend the idea that the show travels from town to town, like Santa Claus.
Like I mentioned before, it looked as though the crowd only managed to number less than half capacity, about the same number as before. This may be because the show (which is run by the Vee Company out of Minneapolis) is continually on the road (there are three separate story lines currently on tour) and they make frequent stops around the area.
E may have noticed this as he’s mentioned how he’d like to see Sesame Street “on the ice.”
And if it comes to town, I’ll probably agree to take him. Watching the smiles on those kids is better than a lot of concerts I’ve been to anyway.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Richard Page: We Hardly Knew Ye

On May 16th in my hometown of Keokuk, Iowa, Richard Page was born. Mr. Page was a highly regarded session musician who found success after teaming up with other session players to form a band. That band, the horribly named Mr. Mister, achieved three top ten singles (two of them reached #1) with their second album, Welcome To The Real World. I lived in Keokuk during the time the band reached this success and I can tell you that no one seemed to figure out that the lead singer of the band that happened to have the number one song in the country was born and lived in Keokuk for the first six years of his life.
Hell, I didn't realize it until over a decade later when I was reading the "M" section of an All Music Guide book.
Regardless of Mr. Mister's longevity on the charts, I do think the town should have made some sort of acknowledgement, either with a street being named after him or, at the very least, a declaration of Richard Page day. Mr. Page could have been given honorary keys to the city and then called his family, thanking them for moving away.
Page, who turns 54 today, is now "semi-retired" and lives in California and hasn't returned to Keokuk in over 48 years.
I guess he took the lyrics to "Broken Wings" literally.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fonzie Fever

Today in 1976, "Fonz Song" by Heyettes hit #91 on the Billboard single charts. For those of you not familiar with this novelty tune, allow me to explain a little more about it, as the low chart position doesn't adequately demonstrate how the United States of America was completely overtaken by Fonzie Fever back in '76.
It's true: the television show Happy Days was by far the biggest television show for anyone under the age of 18 back in '76, with the possible exception of Welcome Back, Kotter (more on that later).
Happy Days was so big that American youth were pummeled with merchandising options, specifically with items that featured anything with Happy Days' main character: Arthur Fonzarelli. There was the obligatory lunch box, action figures, and t-shirts (more on that later too), but one of my favorites was an album called Fonzie Favorites.
Fonzie Favorites contained the theme song to Happy Days (including the original theme song, "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley & The Comets), several other hits from the 50's, and a few original tracks involving The Fonz himself.
Well, not really.
On the back cover for Fonzie Favorites contained the disclaimer "the last selection on this album is an 'impressionist track' containing the expressions Aaaaay, Cool, Nerd, Sit On It." That's right: the final track on the album is some guy who sounded nothing like Henry Winkler reciting some of Happy Days' most famous catch phrases.
But it gets better.
On "The Fonz Song" (yes, the one that hit #91), a trio of girls sang a song praising The Fonz ("Who's cool/Not a nerd/Quit school/Without a word") over a generic 50's sounding arrangement while the same dude who sounds nothing like the Fonz chiming in during the chorus with the occasional "Sure!" "Forever!" and "Aaaaay!"
Part of the reason why such a piece of shit song managed to hit #91 is because it was available at nearly every place that sold records back in 1976. Seriously, I bought my copy at an electronics store while visiting my cousin's house in a small town in Illinois. Even after the first spin, I knew that I had been duped.
The album also had another unusual original song: "The Fonzarelli Slide." In it, members of Laverne & Shirley and, get this, the characters from Welcome Back, Kotter interact with Fonzie. Never mind that these fictional characters resided two decades apart from each other and in two completely different cities (New York City and Milwaukee), it's even more embarrassing to hear people who sound nothing like the actual television characters trying to interpret a storyline that 1.) brings them together and 2.) makes sure to use to all of the catch phrases possible.
Obviously, Fonzie Favorites was created without any consent from the television show itself and it'd doubtful that the Fonz, Ritchie, or even Potsie saw a dime from the sale of these records. Their licensing deals probably came through more legitimate means like t-shirts, lunchboxes, whatever. After all, who had the foresight to think that characters from Happy Days would necessitate a record deal.
But back in 1976, the kids needed everything Happy Days-related. Hell, one of the most dramatic moments in my youth was the day my third grade teacher, Mrs. Inskeep, got pissed at me and grabbed me by the shirt and shook me until it ripped. The shirt in question had a bitchin' picture of The Fonz on it, a gift my parents got for me during a trip to Florida. Interestingly enough, Mrs Inskeep tried to get me to sew the damaged shirt and later lied to my parents when they questioned why their son returned from school with a completely ruined t-shirt. While I told them what had happened, she claimed that it was torn during some intense recess gameplay.
How I wished that Fonzie was there in person to protect me, just like he did when that gang went after Ritchie.
The shirt was never replaced, and Fonzie Favorites also met an early demise thanks to the same carelessness that manages to destroy virtually everything that a ten year old kid touches. But even though the physical evidence is gone, there are those mental reminders of when Happy Days ruled and how much of a cultural icon The Fonz was before he, literally and figuratively, jumped the shark.

Open Letter To Wilco

Dear Wilco:
I guess that means “Jeff Tweedy,” now doesn’t it? I mean, nobody really writes to John Stirratt, do they? I’m sure he’s a great guy and all, but let’s face it: he’s the bass player. And if he were a real thorn in your side, well shit, he’d be playing dates with Jay Bennett now wouldn’t he?
Speaking of “thorns,” there’s one that happens to be in my own side. It has to do with pre-ordering Sky Blue Sky from your online store. I’m starting to have second thoughts, you know, caught up in the moment of your juicy marketing strategy.
You offered weekly prizes to those that did a pre-order; the earlier you ordered the more chances you had to win a nifty prize. So, I did that. I ordered early. I liked the notion of possibly winning Wilco’s entire catalog on vinyl. Some of the other prizes were pretty cool too. I wouldn’t be pissed at the idea of winning all of the Wilco side project releases either, but I will admit to not really giving a shit as to what Glenn Kotche is doing during Wilco’s off months.
So anyway, I was a little put off by the exuberant shipping charges on top of a full retail price disc. Or maybe it was the “expanded” edition that caused it to be priced that high. That’s ok, I suppose; I just dropped sixteen bucks on an import copy of Captain Beefheart’s Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) plus shipping, so I suppose sixteen bucks (or whatever I paid) for Sky Blue Sky plus the “making of” DVD is a fairly decent price. It’s the cost of sticking with the dead format, I guess.
The thing is: I could’ve waited and spent twenty five bucks at Amazon and gotten Sky Blue Sky shipped to me free. I didn’t because your pre-order contest sounded pretty cool and, now that it’s becoming apparent that I’m not going to win any of the pre-order contests, I kinda wish I had waited.
Plus, there’s the fear that Sky Blue Sky is gonna suck and turn into one of those peaceful easy feelin’ kind of seventies yacht rock albums. Understand that I’m too much of a fan to just illegally download it to find out. Nope, I want to get it on the release day just like I did Synchronicity or Use Your Illusion.
I’m old school like that.
Did I mention that I saw you guys (meaning Uncle Tupelo) before you released No Depression? It’s true! I don’t know if that gives me better odds for the contest, but, I thought you should know that I’m by no means a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to your work.
So if I can’t win a contest and if I can’t get free shipping, can you just make sure that Sky Blue Sky doesn’t suck? I know it’s probably too late and all, but if you could just assure me that, no, you’re not turning into The Eagles, or worse yet, Poco, then I’d be cool with this apparent side street towards “easy rockers.”
And I know how you feel about “easy rockers.”
When the album gets here, I’ll let you know what I think about it.

Take Care,
Todd Totale

P.S.: Users are losers.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Missing Marley

On this day in 1981, Bob Marley finally succumbed to his long battle with cancer at the young age of 36. What made his death so seemingly unnecessary was the fact that the cancer was originally diagnosed nearly four years earlier when it was treatable. At that time, the cancer was isolated to Marley’s big toe and a simple amputation of that tainted digit would have prevented the cancer from spreading up to the vital organs of his body.
Obviously, Bob was an intensely spiritual person, and his Rastafarian religion prevented him from considering amputation.
His death brought him some intense notoriety that ultimately brought his mere image to iconic status.
I will confess to not fully appreciating his body of work during his lifetime; my only exposure to him came in the form of the Babylon By Bus live album that I checked out at the public library.
After his passing, I purchased the posthumous compilation album Legend (on cassette) at a record store in Quincy, Illinois. The only song I recognized was, of course, “I Shot The Sherriff,” but it seemed that it was important for me to buy it, given the unanimous praise lofted on to Marley at the time of his death.
Ironically, “I Shot The Sherriff” turned out to be my least favorite song on the album.
But the other songs, particularly the moving “Redemption Song,” were great enough for me to understand how important a figure Marley really was.
That understanding had greater impact upon reading Timothy White’s awesome biography, Catch A Fire: The Life of Bob Marley. It became clear after reading it how Marley’s influence went well beyond the normal scope of a typical musician.
Bob’s legacy transcended whatever genius he happened to commit to wax.
There are a few artists that I would recommend readers to consider splurging on and laying down the bones for the excellent box set, Songs of Freedom. I still have the numbered limited edition first run, but a current edition remains available. Of course, if box set prices are out of your budget, you absolutely can’t go wrong with Legend, one of the few “greatest hits” packages that actually gets it right.
Don’t lose sleep over the “deluxe” edition of Legend; the second disc contains remixes of all of the songs on the original edition. While some of it is pretty rare, it’s probably only of interest to hardcore Marley fans.
Which you may turn into anyway…

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sid Vicious - Sid Sings

It’s strange to consider how history would have treated Sid Vicious if he had lived to see his 50th birthday on May 10, 2007. Would he have been able to maintain the iconic stature that death provided him? Or would he have been ousted as a fairly talent-less sod who owed his notoriety more to luck than true originality?
Judging from his only release, the posthumous Sid Sings, I’m fairly certain that the latter is more likely.
The first thing you notice is how much of a hodgepodge the album is; an obvious cash-in that took advantage of the untimely-yet-expected death of one of rock music’s most famous anti-musicians.
The opening track, a cover of The Heartbreakers’ “Born To Lose,” is actually taken from the Sex Pistols’ Christmas party for underprivileged kids from 1977. The event was a rare example of the band’s generosity, which is a polite way of diverting your attention away from the fact that the Pistols’ version of this track is by no means anywhere close to the original. Nonetheless, it may be the sole reason why a Pistols/Vicious fan would actually need to purchase Sid Sings.
A couple of other songs (a cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else” and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”) can also be found on the Sex Pistols’ soundtrack album The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle. However, the version of “My Way” on Swindle differs from the one found on Sid Sings. The Sid Sings version features a different vocal track from Sid and while the Swindle version features the (clever) string arrangement that most people are familiar with.
Curiously, Sid Sings does not include another solo Sid track that was included on Swindle: “C’mon Everybody,” another Eddie Cochran cover is missing here, which is strange considering Sid Sings extremely short running time.
The majority of Sid Sings is taken from a solo concert at Max’s Kansas City in New York City, about two weeks before Nancy Spungen was found murdered. The sound quality is pathetic (crowd noise is painfully apparent throughout these recordings), the performances are sloppy and amateurish, and (literally) a third of the tracks are cover versions of Johnny Thunders songs. Arthur Kane and Jerry Nolan do perform as backing musicians, so I guess its a case of not having to many rehearsal sessions. This must have been a great plus for Vicious who always had a kind word for the New York Dolls.
So why own it? There’s really no reason to. My only excuse is because it addresses the “completist” area of the brain in me; there's a part of me that wanted to have as much official Pistol-related material from ’77-’79 as I could get my hands on. Hell, I remember bidding retarded amounts on Ebay for the EMI pressing of "Anarchy In The U.K.," but there was someone who was more retarded than me.
I use the word “official” with a healthy dose of salt and a clear understanding of how silly this must all sound to the un-initiated and people who’re far removed from how stunningly frightening and influential the Pistols were during their brief existence.
Sid Sings can be viewed a couple of different ways: as an example of Virgin Records’ “ambulance chasing” marketing strategies or as an appropriate crabs-and-all memorial that befittingly documents Sid’s brief contribution to the world of music.
In either case, the album certainly does nothing to enhance his credibility or build upon his legacy.

Rock-A-Bye, Baby

As we get closer to the birth of the baby, I’m faced with one of the final item to attend to: the soundtrack that will be playing when the child arrives on planet Earth. The SLF has packed her things, the home nesting activities have swelled, and we’ve even taken the obligatory hospital classes with other expecting parents.
So why am I dragging my feet on the music? Obviously, this should be my forte, but the magnitude of the event has left me with a strange sense of writer’s block (or “compilation block,” as the case may be).
Even the minute details are, strangely, an excuse for procrastinating.
I’ve been debating on whether or not to go “old school” and do a cassette compilation, complete with album art. Not only would it be pretty cool to revert back a little for the event and demonstrate a weird sense of nostalgia into the whole thing, I’d avoid such annoyances as the cd skipping or, worse yet, the hospital’s cd player not even recognizing the disc.
At the same time, the cassette is (obviously) not a stable format either and it’s not a very “permanent” means of securing the memory. I don’t anticipating spinning the thing over and over, but it would be nice to have my own little keepsake for the event.
No. We don’t plan on taking the camcorder in the delivery room.
This is all small change compared to what will actually be on the compilation. The only instructions I’ve been provided with are “Put something on there that I like.” Which is going to be a challenge in itself. Having cleaned out the SLF’s car recently and, as a result, taken inventory of her entire music collection, I can say without hesitation that there’s no fucking way that 95% of the shit that I came across will be allowed in the delivery room either.
So I put my foot down, noting the absurdity of trying to accommodate her simple request and priding myself on being the resident music “expert” in our home. I changed gears and then went about an approach of what “style” of music she would like to hear while enduring excruciating labor pains.
“Something relaxing.” was her obvious reply.
“Slayer?” I offered.
“No, honey!” was her quick retort.
The thing is: I’m not going to be satisfied with the mere guidelines of “relaxing.” I want the shit to be memorable. And for me, memorable sometimes doesn’t equate with relaxing.
Ultimately, the entire idea is a self-serving concept that won’t make a world of difference to the new arrival. The little one will have no concept of the music playing and, probably, only be thinking “Holy shit, I just dropped twenty degrees after moving from a liquid environment to this strange new world of sensory overloads! Wah! Wah!”
And the other thing I’ve got to consider is that, no matter what I choose, there’s the possibility that the kid will think the song sucks when I play it for them later in life.
But I’ve got time to address issues like music appreciation.
My time for actually compiling the music for me to discuss is quickly running out.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Psychobilly Freakout on expert level

How devastating is it to know that an 8 year old kid can mop the floor with you on Guitar Hero II?

Pretty...Especially when the kid rubs it in by turning his back to the screen and continues to play.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Deerhunter - Cryptograms

Foreward: The rest of planet rock is going to have a tough time challenging Deerhunter for out-of-left-field greatness in 2007. Not only have they released one of the most awesome albums (Cryptograms) this year, they also released a pretty stellar e.p. (Fluorescent Grey) that was recorded while they were mixing Cryptograms. The vinyl version of Cryptograms also includes the Fluorescent Grey e.p., which makes it a pretty sweet value if you still have a turntable hooked up. I do, but I unfortunately went the route of getting the cd version first. So knock the rating up another half point if you're looking at the vinyl version over the cd version.
Seriously. It's that good.

It’s amazing what a band can do when they have something epic in mind and only a shoestring budget to execute it with. Take Deerhunter, an Atlanta quintet that went in to the studio a few years ago with the intention to make a grand statement, only to have the sessions end in turmoil from a number of technical and personal dramas as well as a limited amount of financial resources to help keep the project afloat.
Understanding that they needed to press on in order to make their creative statement, and understanding that their bank accounts hadn’t grow at all since they first started recording, Deerhunter went back into the studio for a another attempt to complete their second album.
Because of their monetary limitations, much of Cryptograms was recorded “on the fly.” With only a few days of studio time at their disposal, every miscue, flubbed note, and mistake was captured. And every inch of tape was used: you can actually hear the recording tape run out of “Red Ink,” the final song of side one.
Which is appropriate, as Cryptograms is essentially two different sides anyway. Side one is the aforementioned “creative statement” with its lengthy forays into the ambient realm and enough droning imagery to keep a Flying Saucer Attack fan like myself in a Dilaudid nod for days.
It would be testing for anyone who requires some immediate gratification from their stereo. The piece ebbs-and-flows with haunting electrickery, and leader Brandon Cox finds his own vocals manipulated with robotic treatments. All of the elements take their own sweet time to develop; it is, after all, a testament to their own perseverance that the record saw the light of day to begin with. The listener’s job is to find the appropriate time to settle down with it and allow the long-player to unfold completely.
Side two is primarily an echo-laded Elephant 6 affair, which doesn’t mean that it feels out of place here, but it certainly strengthens the breathtaking dissonance that was the first thirty minutes of the album. The record’s second half is, for sure, the most accessible and the point where you might hear a selection on your local, low-wattage student radio station. It too was recorded quickly (in a different session), but without the storyline that the web has focused on regarding the album’s first half.
Addressing this: Cryptograms is by no means the second coming of Loveless. There are moments that may resemble it, and the financial damage incurred during the making of both of these records is similar (although Loveless broke Creation Records’ bank while Cryptograms mainly impacted the band’s purse), it is obvious that there is a world of difference between Kevin Shields’ studio perfectionism and Deerhunter’s day-long ambient opera. Both records are rewarding, but one of them can only be used as a reference for which others are measured.
You don’t need to guess to figure out which album that would be.
For Deerhunter, they’ll have to endure yet another story-worthy tale in order to build upon Cryptograms’ striking development. Such a story may provide enough copy for a great press release, but to suffer through another year of drama to produce an album of this magnitude is enough to make even the strongest of wills to consider an easier option.
To answer Brandon Cox on “Strange Light” (“What direction should we choose/We’re lost and still confused”), the road Deerhunter needs to take to make an album as gratifying as Cryptograms may be the one that proves to be their toughest journey when it’s over.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.
Photo by Cyrus Shahmir

Friday, May 4, 2007

From The Press Room Of The RIAA

Yesterday, the RIAA posted the following press release on their website:

New Wave of RIAA Pre-Lawsuit Letters Targets Music Theft on 13 Campuses
Northern Illinois University, University of Southern California, University of South Florida and University of Tennessee Receive 50 Letters Each
First Letters to Brandeis, Duke, MIT, Tufts, University of Iowa Come in Fourth Wave of New Recording Industry Deterrence Program

WASHINGTON – On behalf of the major record companies, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) today sent a fourth wave of 402 pre-litigation settlement letters to 13 universities.
Earlier this year, the RIAA launched new deterrence and education initiatives focused on illegal file trafficking on college campuses – a significant escalation and expansion of the industry’s ongoing efforts, coupled with the implementation of a new process that gives students the opportunity to resolve copyright infringement claims against them at a discounted rate before a formal lawsuit is filed. Each pre-litigation settlement letter informs the school of a forthcoming copyright infringement suit against one of its students or personnel and requests that university administrators forward that letter to the appropriate network user.
In the fourth wave of this new initiative, the RIAA today sent letters in the following quantities to 13 schools, including: Brandeis University (15 pre-litigation settlement letters), Duke University (35), Iowa State University (15), Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT (23), Northern Illinois University (50), Syracuse University (20), Tufts University (15), University of Georgia (19), University of Iowa (25), University of Southern California (50), University of South Florida (50), University of Tennessee (50), and the University of Texas - Austin (35).
“With record companies embracing digital distribution models of every kind, there is more legal music available now than ever before,” said Steven Marks, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, RIAA. “For students, many of these high-quality music options are available at deeply discounted rates – or even free. Yet, for one reason or another, theft on college campuses continues at disproportionately high levels. We will continue to educate fans of all ages, but deterrence is equally important. Students must understand that there are consequences for their illegal actions.”

C'mon U.N.I.! My alma-matter is falling behind the other two state universities in their theft of music. Buckle down and start ripping off some albums to get on the R.I.A.A.'s shit list!
Look, I don't have the answers, but I'm fairly sure that policing the nation's universities and making threats against them are the way to curtail against illegal downloading.
The record labels, not universities, students, or music fans in general are entirely to blame for illegal downloading and the subsequent loss of revenue and royalties.
If you ask me, the record companies failed to develop an adequate way to address a means of delivering music in the preferred format of the general public. Additionally, the record companies are to blame for holding on to an antiquated accounting system, their complete shafting of independent record stores (allowing select "big box" retailers to create a price-cutting monopoly of their products), jacking up the price of their products when manufacturing costs were lowered (yes, I remember), and creating a business model that only makes money if an artist is able to sell loads of records.
But the R.I.A.A. is essentially a puppet for the major labels, so it's expected that they wouldn't bite the hand that feeds them and, in turn, goes after the lowest common denominator in regards to their problem.
When will they understand that the people their targeting are the same people they'll need to turn the business around? Instead of calling them "thieves," shouldn't a more appropriate title be "jaded music fans?" You'll never eliminate the word "jaded" from their title by threatening them with legal action. What you'll end up doing is making sure that they'll no longer be music fans at all.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Feist - The Reminder

Leslie Feist is one of those women that’s probably cooler than any woman you’ll ever meet in your life. She started playing music in a punk band. Their first gig? Opening for The Ramones.
Her next stop was performing with Peaches, who re-named Leslie, Feist Bitch Lap-Lap before she joined up with the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene.
Even during her work with B.S.S., Feist found the time to contribute backing vocals on other releases while managing to release a few solo albums on her own.
The Reminder, Feist’s third solo album overall, may be the record that gains Leslie enough attention that she won’t be associated with her work on other records any longer; it’s an album that’s stunningly original and very much the product of a woman who’s been very generous with her talents in the past. She could have easily kept them all to herself and done very well by them.
And I’m expecting her to do very well on her own.
So do the majors: The Reminder is being released through Interscope, while her previous releases have gone through the great indie, Arts & Crafts. I’m not faulting Interscope for showing interest as I’d expect the album to become one of those efforts that will be cited for years to come. After one look at the video for the first single, “One Two Three Four,” it seemed fairly easy to imagine this album to become the year’s out of left field hits.
Her voice contains a lot of hints of another Canadian, Joni Mitchell, but without the boring pretension that plagues a huge part of Joni’s work.
Part of the reason why is because Feist sounds so utterly convincing in every single song on The Reminder. There’s not a hint of anything being overly produced, even though the arrangements have obviously been meticulously thought out.
And above the arrangements are the sweet, not-too-refined vocals of Leslie herself. After being one of indie’s best kept secret for many years, it now seems pretty certain that her time spent working on other projects may have to take a back seat to her own material. Judging from how good The Reminder is, that’s not a bad thing at all.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Black Uhuru - Red

While Sinsemilla found Black Uhuru in transition, the follow-up Red, finds the band completely assured and sounding just as legendary as the golden-age of reggae it subsequently replaced.
With Bob Marley in the throes of cancer during this time, many reggae supporters were looking for the heir to the throne and Black Uhuru’s leader, Michael Rose, sounds ready for the challenge. An album of overly political themes, it surpasses some of the landmark albums that reggae contributed in the seventies, and that includes some of Marley’s own work.
In the classic “Youth Of Eglington,” Rose slyly nods to The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” pleading for an end to Jamaican violence (“The youths of Eglinton/Won't put down their Remington/The youth of Brixton /They brave their 45 Smith & Wesson pistol pistol”).
“Sponji Reggae,” probably the album’s most well-known track, documents the distracters that Rose faced during the pursuit of his music dream.
Again, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare are the pair that bring Red to a higher level entirely. Not only are the rhythms precise (as usual), they incorporate some additional electronics that served as some of the same production strategies for the rest of the decade.
Not only does Black Uhuru meet the expectations set forth during Sinsemilla, they exceed it. Red is perhaps the band’s pinnacle achievements and one of reggae music’s most essential records in history.