Day of the Doddering Dodo

This morning I think, “Hell’s smells, the last print issue of the Village Voice will hit town today, so why don’t I cruise over to Harvard Square — and specifically Out of Town News — where I grabbed acres of publications when I first moved here — and pick up a copy if any are left.”

So I get there and look around and no nuthin’ nowhere. Adding to my flightless and   clueless condition I ask: “Has the Village Voice sold out already?” Manager looks at me like I’m wearing paisley shorts with hair down to my butt and says “We haven’t got the Voice for four or five years!” “Well, the last print edition was yesterday.” “Ended for us a long time ago.”

So I go to the still-prime Newbury Comics and buy a couple CDs.

I attend an excellent free class on digital marketing of your brand. I am informed that Twitter analytics exists, which is serious news to me. Now I can see what’s going on over there a lot more. Might help me ask question to improve blog traffic,even.

 

 

 

R.I.P.: Walter Becker/Steely Dan

Steeky

Becker and Fagen would be first to say Steely Dan were a rock and roll future that never came to pass. The saddest aspect of their shortfall is that the more you had listened to, the more you appreciated what Steely Dan was on about. One of my greatest frustrations as a popular music critic is that I’m not happy with anything I wrote about the Dan. The only outright botch was my misguided rave for Fagen’s Kamakiriad (though it does still have its believers). And I did get it more or less right that Two Against Nature was quite an accomplishment after such a hiatus and was artistic justice. But probably the best I ever did for the band was during my first record-store job in Boston, where I convinced the owners that Aja was not just for hipsters but would be a hit and sure as hell would be more fun to play than the millionth repetition of Saturday Night Fever or (shudder) Dark Side of the Moon.

Anyway, I think this is as good as possible to do with Steely Dan and that, yeah, it does help to be from NY.

Made Peace with a Piece of the Past

Wearing my “rock.com” t-shirt today and feel happy and confident. For eons it stayed stashed away in a box because it represented an exciting professional future that never came to pass. I was haunted by the feeling that we made mistakes, if we’d only caught a couple lucky breaks, the operation could have been a thumping success. After all, we were unbound by print from the start. But the Leviathan future for the internet now looks inevitable and Google and Amazon stand revealed as mean as any giants.

Now I simply remember the fun. Best salary I ever made. Tickled to be headed into work every day. Talk directly to the wondrous music fans.

Yeah …

Retail Anecdotes, Pt. 2

(Trying for Friday amusement, here.)

A slight down of my post-dentist visit to the music store was that a lunatic showed up and started hassling some French tourists. They handled it like champs and he disappeared. Did remind me …

When I managed a music store in Missoula (before Boston), the kooks were not extremely kooky and it took only one “get out and don’t come back here” to shoo them away.

But in Boston, working the record stores as the Designated Big Guy I had to get troublesome customers out the front door and their Big City Intensity clued me that sooner or later something terrible was likely to happen. A motive to get outta that and into journalism.

I should, though, mention my all-time favorite shoplifter. It was still vinyl in those days and you can’t have everything crowded in the back of the store, though the box sets were always behind the counter. Anyway this speedy ace comes in, grabs a fat armload of LPs and is out the door, with me right behind him.

I’m sure he could outrun me under regular circumstances, but he was bogged down with all those records. After half a block, I was catching up. So he began shedding LPs, dropping one on the sidewalk every couple steps. After he’d gotten rid of more than half his stash, I realized I’d lose more merchandise by continuing to chase him rather than go back and collect the discs dumped on the sidewalk. So it worked out for both of us, man. You got away with some goodies. I got credit for at least mostly foiling a robbery.

Albums Bought in Missoula and the Stores That Nourished Them

(In rough order of preference.)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unity, The Nashville Sound (Thirty Tigers)

Isbell and his group deliver their strongest outing with songwriting and ensemble work riding the same wire from start to finish. Particularly potent, never-falter trio of songs in the middle: “White Man’s World” (highlights the state of a cluster of incredibly difficult issues), “If We were Vampires” (death like they don’t hardly ever write about it no more), “Anxiety” (ordinary confessional numbers can just get off the psyche couch and go home).

Neil Young, Bottom Line 1974 (Coffee Tea or Me)

I bought this as a good gamble (see comments on Rockin’ Rudy’s below) but then read online that it was a huge fan favorite and about four tracks in you have to hear and agree. First, Young is in as relaxed and ebullient a mood as i can recall and slips from fun to scorching passion without a blink. Ten of the 11 songs from the show were unreleased at the time of the performance (the bonus tracks are a meh demo of “For the Turnstiles” and a superb “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong” from another show). Young’s explanation for how to cook pot and honey and why he gets tired of doing the same numbers night after night are stone classics.

Blondie, Pollinator (BMG)

A virtuoso display of making the old new and interweaving change and continuity. Harry and Stein are as smart, resourceful and literate as anyone to work in rock and roll and their funhouse-mirror eroticism is a treat and a tingle. Also, Harry don’t sound like any 72-year-old I’ve ever heard.

Old 97’s, Graveyard Whistling (ATO)

Timely reminder that “veteran act” is a neutral term unless you earn its implied honors. Push your established sounds and words, show frequent flashes of casual mastery. “Bad Luck Charm,” “She Hates Everybody,” “Turns Out I’m Trouble.”

Roscoe Mitchell & the Note Factory, Song for My Sister (Pi, 2002)

Another vet making the most of extended experience and wisdom. There were some noises back in the day that the lack of all-out free jazzing on this was some sort of surrender. Piffle. Just (“just”) proves Mitchell can write in more styles and with more emotions than you knew before.

Arcade Fire, Everything Now (in partnership with …)

Yeah, yeah — the complaints stick to some degree. You have fun until you look deeper and there’s no there there. But at least two cheers are deserved and that title track is an instant best-of number.

Extra Golden, Hera Ma Nono (Thrill Jockey, 2007)

Unusual band I enjoy a lot whenever I get around to them. Know how to do laid-back and alert and sturdy threads of percussion in pop-song structures. Worth getting to know if you don’t.

Yothu Yindi, Tribal Voice (New Management, 1992)

I sought this out because I knew it was the first outlet for Geoffrey Yunupingu , who recently passed and was noted as the best-selling Aboriginal musician of all time. I was underwhelmed because he seemed to belong to a bland trans-cultural category: mild and MOR with some touches of exotic spice. This is more uptempo and funky and how I will remember the performers. Still doesn’t belong in the same boundary-skipping paragraph as Tanya Tagaq and Hun Huur-Tuu.

THE STORES:

Even if you are not a music fan, you have to check out Rockin’ Rudy’s when you are in town. (I did not visit the related vinyl store because I am firmly in the business of not acquiring any more LPs.) For a number of years, my visits to RR were bring-downs because the music department kept shrinking as the other goodies took up more and more space. It was all but an announcement that physical recorded music was on its way out. Much to the store’s credit, RR has now taken a stance that physical music is here to stay — expanding both the vinyl and CD floor space.

My favorite section is simply marked “Imports” (code for “Bootlegs”). I know that founder Bruce Micklus is a firm Neil Young booster — Rockin’ Rudy’s is the only place I ran across a copy of Young’s Rock’n’Roll Cowboy, one of the most incredible bootlegs ever made — so I felt very confident picking up Bottom Line 1974. Also, I was wowed that Isabell’s The Nashville Sound was a freakin’ Best Seller. Place attracts a good-taste clientele.

I had been gone from Missoula for 20 years when Ear Candy was started, but lemme tell ya, if it had been around in my campus days I would have been in three or four times every week. And now, a trip to town is not complete without a visit. I won’t call the decor a throwback, but rather, timeless — heaps and piles and hyper-full rows and shelves and … every music nut visits such a place in dreams. And you realize how much it takes sharp ears and taste to keep proper exotic stocks (they ain’t big on Top 40 at Ear Candy). I had forgotten about the Roscoe Mitchell — there it was to correct my mistake. Thrill Jockey had sent me Extra Golden back in the day, but had somehow missed Hera Ma Nono and I could not imagine a better place to run across it. Often I take a shot on inviting comp or single-artist ambient/dub because they have such ace selections. But this time I lacked the guts.

PS: I had the urge to buy the new Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, not least since latter-day Fleetwood Mac was one of MB’s all-time faves. But then I couldn’t deal with the fact that this would be the first album with these players that she would never hear.

[This post is finished.  My gout is better.]

Guardian Music Critic’s Insights

A decent enough farewell piece (I was directed to it by a tweet from London Lee). But I think one of the five points is particularly bad and one particularly relevant and telling.

The first point is the clanger. “It’s a myth that critics could make someone popular.” WHAT!?! — If this is a major insight to you, you don’t understand what criticism does. The “make popular” tripe is just another duff variant on the canard that “critics tell people what to like.” Good criticism deepens your appreciation and understanding of what you listen to — and if an ace critic can’t turn you on to something fresh that you love, your tastes are too narrow to need criticism, anyway.

Although I’m not certain I know what’s going on with the second half of the first point — what are these “stories” exactly? — it seems to say: “serious criticism is out, backstory and profiles are in.” Nothing new about that — been Rolling Stone‘s basic agenda for 40 years.

The fifth point is the winner. I agree with every word about the dire narrowing of styles and experiences. I have spent my entire career trying to avoid situations where I would have to write about a performer for the fifth time — who cares if I had anything new to say — because everybody else is doing it and their latest release has really hot sales right now. I think it’s inevitable that fewer and fewer people will become passionately engage with music — there’s no adventure, no jolts, it’s boring.

Little P.S. on BYG and Royalties

A couple young compatriots have wondered why I was waxing (“waxing” — geddit?) nostalgic about a record label that made money by selling vinyl without paying royalties to anybody anywhere.

The key word is “nostalgic” — were are talking about a different music-retail world, here. When I got the Parker sides on BYG, the seller himself — only store in Missoula that carried non-mainstream jazz — told me they were essentially boots but it was the only way in hell at that time I was gonna hear the music. When small record labels were out of business back then, they were Out. Of. Business. Forever, for all we knew.

Of course the world of popular music history changed when James Brown Live at the Apollo was reissued and before you knew it, operations like Rhino were relative powerhouses.

So my basic stance is this: buy a legitimate, royalty-paying release whenever available. And nowadays, just about everything is out there. Well, except Into the Unknown by Bad Religion — oh, wait …