R.I.P.: Russ Solomon

The founder of Tower Records. The sad part is that if he had not overextended, the company might not have had such a nosedive finish.

The happy part is that Tower Records taught me how excellent a huge record/music store could be. The Mass. Ave./Newbury St. intersection that included both a three-floor Tower and the lynch pin store of Newbury Comics were my happiest hunting grounds since I discovered Cheapo back before the Earth’s crust cooled. The “World Music” section of the San Francisco store was Heaven incarnated in a forest of racks. I still recall flipping through vinyl and jewel cases for hours with a simmering, dreamy excitement.


PS: I should add that the first time I went into the Tower in Berkeley (I think it was) there was an angry demonstration-line in front of it decrying “corporate music stores.” So I thought, well probably gonna be a Top 40 hellhole. No way. I recall I saw Rock of Ages by The Band, bright and early after release, and snatched it up and have loved it ever since. You protesters are full of the residue from vinyl that they used to dump in rivers.

The Frail of Comics Is a Fail

Because I bought a rare comic that is physically almost like a regular-issue comic book (Kramers Ergot, Volume One Issue Two, if you must know), I was stunned by the realization that I had not acquired a normal-format comic book in, well, several years anyway.

The fragility of comic books is a key part of their history, of course. Before the collectors’ market really took off in the ’70s, the artists and publishers and sellers all assumed that nobody would want the pop-junk after a month and the unsold issues were destroyed. That’s why, as a general rule, the older something is, the rarer it is. (Sheer number of outlets contributed to more issues of later comics being available.)

I liked using my comic-book collection — reading them, that is. I never picked up anything because it was marketed as a collectible. And I treated comics like regular books — you don’t get them wet or dirty and you keep them away from direct sun, but otherwise just keep them in order.

This business of the cardboard backing and the plastic bag sealed with tape drives me banay-nays. Makes the comic into an investment, not a source of pleasure. So the solution for me is serious paperback or hardback anthologies, which I’m glad to see are around for more titles than ever.

I do have one investment-collection. Years ago, when I took my hundreds of ’60s Marvel comics out of storage I discovered (with a flinch) that they meant nothing to me — I had absorbed them and somehow the shoddy movies had spoiled them for me  in some fundamental way.  But I’m actually glad I have failed to set up a way to sell them all at once (which is the only way I would do it) … because the price estimates keep going up and up and up …

D’OH!/Hooray Combo

D’oh: I do so have an older Jean Shepard anthology. It was just buried in the back CD stacks and I had forgotten about it. (I only looked in the obvious places. Yes, I’ve got too many separate storage areas.) This happens rarely, but makes me feel like a mad hoarder with a faulty memory.

Hooray!: The two collections overlap so little I’m plenty glad to keep both of them.

R.I.P.: Kelan Philip Cohran

Yes, he does belong in the same pantheon as Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble. 

After you recover from his procreative prowess (23 kids!), you should run out and score a copy of On the Beach  The reissue on Aestuarium Records has the consensus more nuanced and clear sound, but damned if I don’t have both that and the reissue on Katalyst because I think the compare/contrast quality of the reissued sound is fascinating. I emphasize that if you dig Ra and the Art Ensemble, you have to have some of this guy.

Brazilian Tip: Os Brazoes

Os Brazoes

Got all the usual flags of promise that fail to fly so often any more: only album, from 1969; quick out of print, rare as hell even in Brazil; harder rock ‘n’ soul psyche than almost any other Brazilian outfit of the time. Mysteries remain — yes they backed Gal Costa, but did they record anything with her or not? (Most sources say no.)

But damned if everything doesn’t wave high with this one. No strong singing voices, but you get used to the poised harmonies and sometimes, as on the cleverly arranged “Canastra Real,” they finesse the vocal limits altogether.

Reviews are a shade wanting, but here’s some good scoop.

So yeah, the Nuggets do still turn up.

Sweat Soundtrack #2

  1. Lagbaja, WebeforeMe (PDSE, 2001) Nigerian oddball with admirable ideals and an ensemble that is almost too pure-percussion for me. Redeeming feature: recurrent sense of humor. Here’s some scoop.
  2. Various, Give Peace a Dance: A CND Compilation (CND, 1991) Enjoyable, but more dated than I hoped in that most unfamiliar names on it are not remembered for a reason.
  3. Various, True Spirit: Tresor Berlin (Tresor, 2002). Euro take on Detroit Techno. On the relentless side, but runs over your objections like an electronic tank.
  4. Richard Thompson, Grizzly Man (soundtrack) (Cooking Vinyl, 2005). I agree this is most effective in the context of the documentary (a side feature of the DVD shows Thompson improvising the themes as he watches the footage). But the wide-open-spaces feel mixed with melancholy and just that wisp of ominous is irresistible. The movie is a masterpiece about how nature is itself, not anyone’s dreams or fears.
  5. Various, Sugar and Poison (Virgin, 1996)
  6. Various, Guitars on Mars (Virgin, 1997)
  7. David Toop, Sound Body (Samadhisound, 2006) (As many visitors will know the last three feature Toop either as compiler or performer.) Seem more eccentric than I recalled, though his sequencing is his own and Sugar is the clear pick. Must add that a fascinating bonus is that I swear even the most familiar tunes — many of them, anyway — are in subtle remixes that pull them into the undulating smokewaves.

Why Comic Books Have Trouble With Innovation and Inclusion

It’s this crazy retail-distribution system.  I remember how shocked and befuddled I was when I first discovered the setup. So that’s why there were heaps of comics in the garbage pile behind the store alla time — can’t send back unsold copies! The late, great Jeep Holland, who worked for Diamond Distributors (when it actually had some competition), told me that, rightly or wrongly, comic-book publishers decided that dealing with unsold copies would be a crucial difference between making money and going broke. Jeep thought this was increasingly misguided since it was based on the assumption that nobody but nobody would be interested in a comic book a month after it came out, let alone years later. (Been great for the collectors’ market of course — it’s why really old comics are really rare.) This also explains why Marvel’s huge outburst of innovation came as they were going down the tubes and had nothing to lose. But also a strong component of why I dropped out of mainstream-comic reading. The rehash mode was impossible to stomach.