Friday, September 30, 2005

Papa's Got A Brand New Blog

Sorry, I couldn't resist that title... But yes, I do have another blog (Crazed by the Music, from a Josephine Baker quote) that I'm doing now for the stalwart folks at PopMatters. Though they cover some of the same area that I do with my own zine, I have a lot of respect for the work that they do- I see them as fellow travelers, not competitors. I don't always agree with what they have to say either but I appreciate the fact that they put some thought into what they say. I'm tired of the purposely contrary articles/think-pieces purposefully done to raise eyebrows and the amateurish gonzo B.S. that too often passes off as online journalism, giving the whole field a bad name. I'm glad that there are more voices out there speaking about music and related topics but that doesn't mean that all of it's worth reading (or writing). End rant.

What I intend to do is keep Ye Wei around but change the focus to reports on new/old artists that I like and want to get the word out about, which I always wanted to do anyway. The diatribes and rants about music industry news and issues I intend to keep at PopMatters. I find that I don't always have time to do one blog, not because I don't have ideas but because I have too many ideas and not enough time to form them in even an off-the-cuff blog post. I'll try to keep up as best I can though because I do feel strongly about what I say online (and offline). I'm fine if people don't agree with me but I'd just like to believe that people can at least start thinking about these issues.

Just so that I don't get too full of myself and the whole idea of blogging, there's this sobering report: Did you say dogging or blogging? Brits confused. Note this in particular:

"A survey of British taxi drivers, pub landlords and hairdressers -- often seen as barometers of popular trends -- found that nearly 90 percent had no idea what a podcast is and more than 70 percent had never heard of blogging... Our research not only shows that there is no buzz about blogging and podcasting outside of our media industry bubble, but also that people have no understanding of what the words mean," Carter said. "It's a real wake-up call.""

Granted that the one survey of drivers and hairdressers isn't the last word on the influence and ubiquitous quality of blogs but it's funny to see an article like this go against all of the other reports about how many people are blogging now and how many are springing up each day. Then again, maybe they're right and maybe we're all fooling ourselves here. If so, that's fine with me as long as we all enjoy ourselves doing it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Dylan unleashed... yet again

You'd think that since it had already been out on DVD, PBS' airing for Dylan doc No Direction Home wouldn't be much of an event but it was. Spread over two night, they made it part of their American Masters series and will no doubt rehaul it (or parts of it) out for their next pledge drive, as they should. Since the film industry is already talking about simultaneous releases for DVD's and theatrical premieres, it only makes sense that TV also give viewers multiple options.

Even though Martin Scorsese is credited as director here, it bears repeating that the project goes back about a decade. MS was brought in about three years ago to "shape" the material that the Dylan crew had amassed. Other than the interviews, what's really extraordinary is the mid 60's concert footage. Murray Lerner's Newport Festival films are wonderful pieces of history, especially as we can now see and hear the infamous '65 show and yes, there's boo-ing out there in the audience. Ditto for D.A. Pennebaker's seldom seen footage of the UK '66 tour from Eat The Document (which deserves a full release). There, the antagonism is even more upfront and louder- to drive home the point, we get subtitles of the jeering and some angry interviews with fans who heap scorn on their former hero. Even more remarkable, we see the whole "Judas" exchange where Dylan replies by calling back "I don't believe you! You're a liar!" and then instructing his boys to "Play it fuckin' loud!" as the perfect response. Backstage at these shows, a weary Dylan can only joke about these incidents.

You'd have to fast forward about ten years in the same places in the UK to see the same kind of hostility, at punk shows to be exact. Though there were detractors for sure, the fans themselves saw fit to also heap scornful responses to the people on stage, but for different reasons. As for Dylan, the eight years he took off after that tour served him well. Though he popped up now and then during his retirement (Isle of Wight, Guthrie Memorial), he didn't really do shows in earnest until 1974. By then, the whole issue of him selling out was played out not just because he'd already done several rock albums by then but also the music world had changed considerably.

The infamous press conferences he gave around '65 and '66 were yet another antagonism forum for him but obviously in a different context. Here he was facing a smaller crowd of people but interacting with them one-on-one. Though the journos are obviously less hostile than some of the crowds, the amount of inane questions they throw at him are staggering. Reflecting on it later, Dylan is still baffled about how he could have properly responded to questions like "How many protest singers there are?" In their defense though, some of the writers are earnest and trying to ask reasonable questions but Dylan is so bemused by what he sees as a circus that it's doubtful that ANY question could have possibly gotten a straight-forward answer. He decided to play the press corps instead of the aw-shucks modesty angle (i.e. Elvis). If anything, it sounded kind of like the flip responses that the Beatles gave when they invaded the U.S. but D's much more angry and condescending.

This kind of battling with the press and so-called fans were having a toll on him- he later admits that he needed a break. His '66 motorcycle accident provided the ideal excuse for it. As you hear in assorted biographies, manager Albert Goldman (who he likens to Colonel Parker) had him over-booked for more tours and a book deal at the time (which eventually became Tarantula).

What's also interesting about the film is what we don't see. While Dylan himself sat for some ten hours (!) of interviews and was remarkably frank and up front in his answers, the rest of the assembled subjects are his fellow travelers, contemporaries, friends, lovers, etc.. No journos, historians or even rock musicians that were outside his circle to give some perspective. Most likely, Scorsese, Jeff Rosen (from Dylan's camp) and others thought that those people already had enough of their say so that we should hear from those at the eye of the storm. Obviously, death robbed us of comments from Tom Wilson, Albert Grossman (could you even imagine what he'd say?) and others, we don't hear from anyone from the Band though Al Kooper and '66 tour drummer Mickey Jones are accounted for in the film: Richard Manuel was sadly long gone but there was still plenty of time to speak to Rick Danko; Garth Hudson, Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson are still around too. Since the film's been brewing for a while, interviews with Allen Ginsberg and Dave Von Ronk were done before they died. Another puzzling omission is Blonde on Blonde. It's not just one of Dylan's most lauded records, it's a flippin' rock milestone. Unless I blinked, I don't remember a word about it, even though producer Bob Johnston was happy to talk about Highway 61 Revisited.

Admittedly, I don't have a copy of the DVD but I'm going to guess that the Charlie Rose interview with Scorsese that was aired after the PBS showing isn't included there. That's a shame because a lot more is revealed there. In addition to his comments about how he got involved in the film late in the game, Scorsese reminds us that we'd only seen a few years (the retirement provided a perfect end point) of a musical career that's lasted almost forty years after the film ends and is still going. He briefly ticks off what happened to Dylan since then and shows a particular interest towards his religious phase. By now, most people (I'm guessing even many fans) laugh off this part of Dylan's career as an unfortunate diversion but for someone like Scorsese who obviously takes the subject very seriously in his work, this ain't no joke: if they do decide to keep covering D's career, Scorsese would definitely be the right man to oversee a doc on this part of his career.

So, having a high-powered director like Scorsese behind this project means that this is the last word on Dylan's early years, right? Obviously, it ain't. Even with his recent autobiography, he's the shadowy type who even when he appears forthright still leaves as many questions in his wake as he answer others: "Andy Warhol meets Pete Seeger," as Bono called him. Even in the brief years chronicled in the film, we see him rapidly evolve year to year- this only continued or accelerated afterwards. We'll still be slobbering over him years from now and he'll probably still be hitting on road on what's now appropriately called his Endless Tour, still leaving crumbs for us to chew over. And why is he opening up with this film and his book after years of enigmatic behavior? That's yet another mystery for us to ponder about him.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

N-Word is appopriate when...?, Part MCMLXX

Yet another graphic demonstration that America still isn't ready for a serious discussion about race... A racuous occurred on a Florida campus when a student newspaper ran a political cartoon (Explosion Over the N-Word) where Kanye West is dressed down by Condi Rice, who tells him "Nigga please..."

A second version of the cartoon has the Rice character explaining in a little more detail for the knotheads who didn't get the point the first time:

"As per the cultural standard of African-American entertainers deriding each other using a racial and/or ethnic context, I would like to address you in the same way. You are a rapper who constantly uses terminology denigrating to the African-American community. I am an African-American and close friends with President Bush; hence, Bush does not hate black people. Please."

This should have been obvious from the first version of the cartoon but it wasn't to some. Is it too much of a stretch to understand that N-word has assorted connotations? Remember what the initials of rap group N.W.A. stood for or how often the word is used in rap lyrics (including Kanye's)? The cartoon is a racial commentary but the message is "Get real!" and not some name-calling. But since this is such a volatile subject, the mere presence of the word "nigga" holds out the specter of racism. It's no surprise that our government can't have a serious dialog about race but when it also can't happen at a college campus (which is all about learning, right?), we're in trouble. If there's something we hopefully learned from the aftermath of Katrina, it's that the racial (and poverty) divide in America is still high and it's not going away. Until we can openly take about these issues, it's going to stay as bad as it is, if not get worse.

One thing to note about the cartoon itself is its message. Basically, it's taking the side that Kanye was wrong, using Condi as prove that he's full of shit. Could it be that some people also found the 'toon objectionable because they agreed with Kanye? It makes sense as "nigga" is a pretty un-P.C. term for a publication. Also note that Kanye is literally holding out a large race card with a picture of himself as a joker on it. It's easy to see where the cartoonist's sympathy lies.

Personally, I half-agree with Kanye. If I had to frame it more precisely, I'd say "George Bush doesn't care about black people (or anyone) who doesn't support his policies and his admin have made moves that are hostile to minorities (i.e. their anti-affirmative action stand)." But then again, that doesn't have the resonance of what Kanye said, does it?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Switchfoot- the anti-Metallica?

I can't say that I like their records but my hat's off to Switchfoot for seeing what a sham that the copy protection their label stuck on their album is. They're even taking the step to tell fans how to overcome it: Artist Suggesting Ways Around Copy Protection. Considering that they're number 3 on the Billboard charts now, this isn't an insignficant matter.

As far as I know, they're the first artists to not only raise a concern about this but to also insist their fans shouldn't have to suffer for this foolishness. I wonder if other artists will line up to do this. I also wonder if they're label is going to scold them for this. Even Springsteen let his label get away with this.

Like some people on the Slashbot message board, I do wonder if it's a ploy also but if it is, it's not only that Sony sanctions. If Lars is really as worried as he appeared to be in the Metallica move about being the most hated man in rock, maybe he should take a page from these guys about how to win back fans.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Dude, where's our singer?

Fascinating article from the NY Times about lead singers being replaced in bands: This Band Was Your Band, This Band Is My Band. I wonder about some other examples from past music history. Once the rest of Pink Floyd kicked out their former leader, they reached untold commercial heights though some (including David Bowie) insist that the band was never worthwhile after that. A similar case could be made for AC/DC- it might have been unimaginable to replace the singer at the time but they did and reaped gold for it. Then you have the vocal groups from the 50's would get replaced regularly by their management or label but still do amazing work thanks to a great stock of producers and songwriters (i.e. the Drifters). Other interesting studies are the Move and the Byrds- in both cases, the singer left after a few records but the band was able to carry on (not as commercially successful though) because the band's force of personality came elsewhere, from the main songwriter (Roy Wood, Roger McGuinn). When you have leader as both the singer and songwriter, you're asking for trouble trying to replace him- just ask Mott (the Hoople). This doesn't work well for rap crews it seems also- were Brand Nubian, NWA, Goodie Mob ever the same once their honchos split? On the other hand, you gotta respect groups who recognize the unreplaceable quality of their leader so that they move on but also change their name- Joy Division, Sublime come to mind. All in all though, it seems that singer-replacement is part of a grand old tradition.

Meet the Press hits a new low

Letter to Meet The Press:

Tim Russert's interview with Aaron Broussard was one of the most disgraceful pieces of television journalism I ever have seen. As a regular watcher of MTP, I was appalled by pettiness and lack of sensitivity that Russert displayed. By replaying the video of Mr. Broussard weeping emotionally from the previous week, the show was obviously exploiting the deeply felt tragic situation in New Orleans. To then nitpick over the exact days that it took for a doomed old women to get rescued was horrifying- is that really important in the scheme of things to try to nail Broussard about those days considering that the women and hundreds of others were left to die?

Shame on Russert for such cheap, tawdry tactics. I expect a lot more from MTP and hope that this kind of bottom-barrell journalism isn't going to become a standard for otherwise stalwart program.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The iPod Generation: going deaf?

Two recent articles both bring home an important point that bear repeating. The popularity of the I-Pod and other MP3 players are likely to mean that Gen Z (or whatever they're calling it today) is going to need audiologists badly in 2-3 decades. If you're smart, you'll send your kids to med school to prep for this oncoming disaster. You might also want to take the advice of the articles and not blast your player to drown out the noise around you- I know that I've taken that to heart.

The iPod Generation: going deaf?

Play it loud, and you may pay for it

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Legendary K.O.- "George Bush Don't Like Black People" single

Best answer song of the year. A remix of Kanye's "Gold Digger" hit based on his controversial comments (mixed in additional thoughts about FEMA's foot-dragging response), has taken off into a new song from Legendary K.O. And it's available for free so grab it now. "Swam to the store/trying to lift food." "Niggers starving and dying of thrist/I bet he had to go check on the refineries first."

Jukebox musicals' secrets

From Matt Windman of AM New York on the Broadway flop Lennon (based mostly on his post-Beatles career): "The show's failure, along with the similarly troubled fates of "Good Vibrations" and "All Shook Up," has left many in the industry wondering whether the jukebox musical (one based on a pre-existing famous catalog of songs) can spawn any more hits to accompany "Mamma Mia." "Jersey Boys," based on the songs of the Four Seasons, will open this fall, and a number of other musicals are in development based on the songs of Bob Marley, Johnny Cash, AC/DC, and Earth, Wind, and Fire."

Other than poor scripts, isn't it obvious that another problem is that there's a glut of these things. It's assumed that since the boomer audience still invests in music (via CD purchases) and turn more and more to satellite radio since the regular FM band isn't servicing them, that they also want to see their favorite songs recreated on Broadway. Part of the equation is right- these folks do care about music and will invest in it. In the case where their icons aren't around to perform it themselves (Lennon, Presley, Cash, Marley), the shows' producers figure that don't have much to compete with and they're right to the extent that they provide something actually worth paying for and seeing. Wonder why there isn't a Rolling Stones musical yet? It's not just because the band is still touring, it's also because producers might figure that something like a play would be too cheesy for their fans I'll bet. Also, since AC/DC uses more props in their arena shows than a musical could in a smaller theatre, how's that gonna fare against the real thing?

Yet another factor may be that certain artists and repertoires lend themselves better to the possibility of a stage show. Larger than live characters like Presley, Lennon, Cash and Marley are no-brainers at least at the planning stage in this regard. EW&F sounds like a great idea on paper (or a screen) but though Maurice White was the guiding light, you can be sure that the show won't focus on him. Ditto Angus.

Tommy is an interesting case study too. Since it was already a story in and of itself (a professed rock opera), it wasn't going to be too long before it hit the screen and eventually (though a long time), the stage too. That it did take so long to make it there is noteworthy. The idea of the rock opera had become a fixture in the 70's but actually making it an actual theatrical presentation wasn't on the radar of Broadway or other theatre cities quite yet. Also, Movin' Out was another hit that had its success pinned on songs rather than an artist's image- some of Billy Joel's songs are painted in broad theatrical strokes that lend itself well to the stage (and note that this was much more successful than Twyla Twarp's early 80's collaboration with David Byrne, The Catherine Wheel, which had original songs and a much more avant type of agenda). As for a recent John Denver musical, you couldn't pay me to go and review it but admittedly, there is a readily available fan base for this sort of thing.

When I was a kid, I was a Beatles nut so I was thrilled as hell to see Beatlemania (wish I could remember if it was the production with Marshall Crenshaw as Lennon). The Beatles were gone for years by then and not many people held out hope of them getting together again so it was a brilliant idea. That's not easily duplicated because most acts don't have enough readily recognizable songs to convince people to pay the price of a box set for a night of theatre. Also, you have to assume that the artist is well known enough to have a steady stream of fans who would want to come out to see something like this. Figure that includes not just mostly stadium acts but more particularly artists who've been around for a while and build up a large, sustained audience that crosses over age groups (which brings us back to why they fill up stadiums in the first place).

With these criteria, note also what's missing. Other than Cash, where are the country acts? Nashville has had theatrical presentations about Hank and Patsy but why not NYC? Marley is the only reggae act so far, which is a shame because artists like Peter Tosh, Burning Spear or Linton Kwesi Johnson would lend themselves nicely to this (but yes, they don't have enough following for it). Divas? Surely a Tina Turner play is going to be in the works and Cher too probably lends herself to that well. Rap? Good god- so many acts would EASILY lend themselves to this. There's obviously going to be ones for Biggie and Tupac but you could just as easily imagine Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy there too someday.

Some of these sound enticing and might be worth your money while others won't. Sure, the price of a play is pretty high now but how much more expensive is it than a ticket to your favorite arena show?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Relief concerts- separate but equal?

An excellent New York Times article (Cultural Divisions Stretch to Relief Concerts) about how the different benefit shows for Katrina reveal differences in demographics and a not-so-unified reaction among music genres got me thinking about the two recent telethons I'd seen. For the biggest one (Shelter From the Storm, September 9th, carried by all the major networks), these notes:

- Chris Rock- "George Bush hates midgits," he said mischeously before he began his speech to plea for donations.

- Many of the TV/movie stars who also appeared to make appeals (Cameron Diaz, Don Cheadle, Jennifer Aniston) were obviously holding back tears as they spoke. Hard not to feel the same seeing them or hearing them.

- Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" became the unofficial theme song of the disaster with Newman singing the song at the beginning of the telethon. The last verse goes like this:

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, "Little fat man isn't it a shame what the river has
done To this poor crackers land."

The pious tone of the song and the chorus ("Louisiana/they're trying to wash us away") is remembered more than those condescendingly cruel lines, which happen to have a lot of weight today.

(I'd also recommend Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," which I don't suggest to sound cute. Like Newman's song, it strikes a haunting tone and while the words are a catalog of surreal, unimaginable suffering, but unlike Newman's song, it has hope and determination within it also.
In the middle of the wasteland, the singer vows:
"And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
But I'll know my song well before I start singin'"
It's the sound of man who won't forget what he's seen and won't let others forget.)

- Kanye's set was riddled technical problems (feedback in the beginning left him unsure about when to start) but he did deliver this improv- "if I had to lose my mother... if I had to stay in the Superdome..." after the network bleeped out some of the 'niggarz' from the lyrics (interestingly enough, some of the radio stations are doing the same with his recent hit "Gold Digger").

- Garth Brooks' "Who'll Stop the Rain" and the Foo Fighters "Born on the Bayou" meant that John Fogerty was the unofficial musical hero here.

Then there was also less publicized BET telethon which was being broadcast at the same time (and raised about one third of the money of the Shelter telethon). It was quite a contrast as this was full of light-heartedness, which is what you need sometimes in times of tragedy to stay sane. It was less pious but much more enjoyable to watch and no less serious about reaching out to viewers for help.

- Mary J. Blige's segment was so beautiful and heartbreaking, it was difficult to watch.

- Chris Rock back saying "George Bush hates albinos" etc.

- Kanye's appearance here was an explanation of his vilified comments about Bush. "(They) make the black people seem like animals... I turned away from the screen because it's so messed up... I just let my heart speak for myself, (not) what it would mean for myself financially." Host Steve Harvey appeared afterward and said: "We love you brother and we understand what you're trying to say"

- In a phone interview, Bill Clinton was treated like a hero. Harvey and co-host Queen Latifah made no bones about how they're prefer him to be in charge again. As to what should have been done, Clinton wisely said that the Feds should be "getting FEMA back to being independent and find someone competent to run it." And "in addition to helping people, we should try to make their situation better when we rebuild" (something Bush said later in his New Orleans speech).

Thursday, September 15, 2005

So you wanna be a DJ?

I can't remember the last time I played music for a crowd of people but suffice it to say it's been a while. I've piled up my share of vinyl, CD's and digital tracks but it's one thing to play it at home or work but quite another thing to present music in public. When Adam Shore at Vice Magazine asked me if I wanted to DJ at NYC hot-spot Scenic, I was a little nervous but I knew that I should do it anyway.

You'd think that having a good size collection would make it easy to DJ but you're wrong. The fact of the matter is that it makes it harder. If you have a ton of records that you love (say at least dozens or maybe even hundreds of them), how do you whittle that down to a set that lasts about an hour or so? Think of it- you're presenting yourself and your taste for all to see. It's one thing to do that in guise of newspaper, magazine, website or blog but it's a lot more upclose and personal when you're actually out there playing your favorite records. You get a little taste of how daunting it can be to be a performer. I always said that I admired any band that could get up on a stage and perform just for having the guts to do it. When its your own guts on display...

OK, so now what do you chose from your own collection to present at a club? Do you pick a theme? Do you just grab some favorite records and hope that they'll go together? Do you try for some kind of mix of styles? How long is this really worth fretting over?

I don't know how conscious it was or not but as I started to grab music off my shelves, some themes did emerge and make me think of which songs and albums might fit or not. Somehow I came up with the idea of brutal art-rock, outre jazz and raw, exotic world music. That's not to say I don't have a soft spot for old school rap, honky tonk, Chicago blues, Western swing, soul, etc. but for some reason, I was formenting a perverse pleasure that I thought that I'd get from presenting this kind of esoteric music to a club crowd who might not have heard all of this or hadn't heard it in ages. As this idea conjealed, I came up with Sun Ra, the Residents, Jon Hassell, Master Musicians of Joujouka, John Zorn, Moondog, Tuvan throat singing. Also, why not throw in some spoken word pieces, ads and language instruction over instrumental music like King Tubby, Basic Channel singles and the Clicks and Cuts compilation. For the latter, I could throw some Ilhan Mimaroglu over the top it to spice it up a little. Also, I could trot out some recent favorites that people might not have gotten to hear: a Zac De Lac Roc/DJ Shadow collaboration, Fiona Apple's controversial unreleased versions of her upcoming record, a mash-up of U2 and the Streets. As I dug futher into my collection, I found other tidbits that seemed to fit in well: a mischievously doctored Bush speech where he declares war on America, a Sex education record obviously from the 50's, a great 80's Paris show from Jamaaladeen Tacuma, long-lost (but recently reunited) Athens GA legends Pylon, Byrne/Eno, a field recording of Ghana's drums of death, the Jungle Brothers (MIA?), Henry Threadgill, player piano rolls, a little turntablism (from a Return of the DJ compilation), some B-Movie promos, a Morricone soundtrack, Neu! (the really weird stuff from their 2nd album), doo-wop and even a homemade mash-up. Even if I couldn't figure out which tracks I'd use from each album, I was determined just to find SOMETHING that fit in just because I liked the idea so much of having these artists together and reasoned that there had to be at least one song from their albums I had that would blend or contrast well with the other selections.

And what do they say about the best laid plans? When I arrived at the club, I saw that the booth was accessible by a small metal ladder that wasn't easy to climb at first. Once you got into the tiny booth, you had two CD players that didn't look like anything I'd seen before. I had some of the cuts ready to cut at exact moments but I couldn't figure out how to advance, pause or even put in or take out the CD's. Luckily, someone from the club was there to give me a primer. Even with that help, it occurred to me that getting songs cued up at the right moment probably won't work out until I was really comfortable with the decks.

Another thing that I found out early was that the spoken word, ads and language lessons just weren't going to work. You have to figure crowd noise into the equation. Hearing the particulars of a speech is just going to get drown out as I found out the hard way with the Bush speech and the Spanish lesson- I guess this is why Mississippi John Hurt's tender music wouldn't cut it in a smokey bar while Muddy Water's electrified band with a drum kit would. For me, that meant that the movie trailers, Malcolm X and sex ed tapes wouldn't get an airing. Oh well...

Other than the trial-and-error tribulations of figuring out pausing and start-of-song cueing on the CD players (I didn't even wanna attempt the stratching function offered as I had enough problems just playing the records), I found that I was making last minute decisions about the order to play the songs and what play-over records I could or couldn't attempt. Since the voice samples weren't working, I was squeamish about trying this but the Mimaroglu/techno combo worked out just fine. What you don't consider beforehand is that since both decks are already being used, you better be ready to cut out one of them early so you can cue up the next song on one of the players. Also, you can't really appreciate the volume of what you're playing, not just because some music is mastered better than others but the small DJ speaker doesn't accurately reflect what the crowd hears- one of the bartenders had to come over to tell me to turn it up more than once. On the plus side, I did get free drinks for my trouble.

And so it went. Someone actually came up to ask about the Sun Ra song ("Disco 3000") and compliment the long fade out of a Residents song ("You Yes Yes Yes Yes You") but I didn't get a chance or time to do Threadgill, Basic Channel, doo wop, Neu! or my own bootleg remixes. I did throw in Jonathan Richman at the last minute, maybe because he was on the same record as the doo wop (the Lipstick Traces compilation).

As nervous as I was to start, I was actually fine to run over time and get to play a little more than I thought I could. Hey, I was just getting the hang of this! Then the next DJ came up, playing Elvis and 70's ballads as I slunk over to the bar. People seemed to be really getting into it, making me wonder if the abrasive stuff I was blaring didn't really reach them. And just like Janis Joplin said, you make love to a crowd of people and then you go home alone.

Still, I was exhilirated and pumped to be ready for the next time, whenever that might be. I would be armed with Howlin' Wolf and Terry Riley for sure. Also, I had a much greater appreication for DJ's, seeing all that they have to go through to try to put on a good show and entertain a crowd. It also made me appreciate how easier it is to exhibit my taste in music in print (a much more controlled situation) rather than in front of a crowd.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Jay Z and Korn- a tale of two record deals

Lesson One: Korn and EMI

In what the L.A. Times frames as the wave of the future or a bonehead move, EMI will pay $15 million to Korn to get a piece of their non-album sales profits- i.e. concerts, merchandise. As the article notes, since album sales are tanking, labels have to be more creative about how they'll stay afloat. Artists make most of their money from shows and mersh so unless they get a nice fat payoff like the Korn clan, this might not work in their favor. For the now, the rest of the biz seems to be taking a wait-and-see tact about this. They're not likely to offer other multi-million dollar deals if Korn doesn't rake in show/mersh bucks as the label hopes. In other words, it's a pretty dicey proposition, for both sides and it's been guinea-pigged for now with some bet-hedging. Korn takes a nice paycheck but if EMI manages to help push their concert and T-shirt sales well enough, will the band regret their deal?

Lesson Two: Jay Z and Def Jam Left

Interestingly enough, Jay Z seems to taking the opposite tact and going truly old school. He's talking about making a small label that doesn't demand immediate six-figure Soundscan returns, instead giving smaller acts time to mature and be nurtured. I believe this was once called "A&R" but that's became kind of a dying breed as of late. Let's hope that he follows through with this as it's definitely long overdue. If he does succeed here, other labels will take note. If that happens, it may do more to save the music biz than the Korn-type contracts or I-Pod's. Leave it to an artist to think of something that should be so obvious and simple to the rest of the biz.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Fogerty and Courtney- giving their devils the due

Along with warring sides in South Africa, Ireland and Palestine declaring at least temporary peaces, another moment that no one thought they'd live to see was when it was announced that John Fogerty would be with Fantasy Records again. Fogerty's long-term fight with the label has led to dirty deals, bad blood, family disputes (brother Tom Fogerty swore allegiance to the label shortly before he died), attack songs (JF's "Zanz Can't Dance", directly at labelhead Saul Zaentz) and lawsuits (including a beaut against JF that his solo work was copying his Creedence work).

In statements, JF sounds all nice and ready to reconcile. And really, he must be somewhat relieved after all this time. He's playing Creedence songs again, as he always should have been. After all, some bands that ended with a lot of band blood managed to reunite years later- The Sex Pistols, Pixies for instance. The reason for that is usually (what else?) moola. Most likely, that was going through JF's head. He'd fought his former label for years and probably figured that it was pointless by now. He could have kept holding out on principle but that usually doesn't get you very far in the entertainment biz, sad to say. At the very least, let's hope he can start to work out an equitable royalty deal with his old/new label.

This brings to him another recent label-artist battle- Courtney Love vs. Universal. In a pretty gutsy, unprecendented move, she decided that she wanted out of her contract. Another her reasons were a problem that many artists faced- their label would get bought and sold to larger companies who didn't know anything about music or A&R. At an SXSW interview, she insisted that she would be the Olivia de Havilland of the music business- ODH was the actress who sued her movie studio (Warner Bros), won after a decade long battle in the 40's and effectively ended the long-term indentured servant system that held actors and actresses tied down to a studio. Similarly, Love said she was determined to break the record labels' seven-year contract system that kept artists tied down to one place.

But one year later, Love settled with Universal, bragging that she got a pile of money for her trouble but no word about the principal behind her suit. At stake was a huge chunk of change (i.e. Nirvana royalties) and with pricy lawsuits being filed against her otherwise, she understood that she had to be practical. Yes, I was among the people who was disappointed that she didn't keep taking her stand, especially because the outcome might have been similar to Havilland's suit. Similar campaigns for fairer artist contracts (Recording Artists Coalition) tried to make strides but why did many of these same people file a friend-of-the-court petition to overturn court decisions that shielded tech companies from copyright lawsuits (aka the Betamax decision)?

Wasn't it Jello Biafra who said ""If there's gonna be a revolution, you better hope it's not led by musicians"?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Stones return strong- musically and financially

At this point, no one but a hardcore fan should notice or care that the Rolling Stones have a new album out. They wisely schedule a tour around it so it might become news. Since the late '60s, they've devised a crafty idea to only do shows every few years to keep demand high. They can afford to do this since they have a built-in fan base and making people wait only whets their appetite to see their heros.

But the strange thing is that their new one, A Bigger Bang, is actually half a good record. It's not a great one and they're never going to put out anything that's going to change the music world (that's Radiohead's job right now). But just the fact that they can remember (with a lot of help from producer Don Was I bet) what made them great and recapture this on an album is news itself. "Rough Justice" does start things with a... bang but then they waffle around until the old-time bluesy "Back of My Hand" (Eric Clapton wishes he was this soulful at this point) and then give up a couple of good old-fashioned pieces of raunch. Charlie pounds out his 4/4 beat, Keith does his driving rhythm guitar bit and Mick mouths off- viola, classic Stones. Granted, they're not competing with a strong catalog when people say it's their best since Some Girls (is anyone going to defend Steel Wheels, Bridges to Babylon? Also recall that they don't exact keep up a regular release schedule nowadays). But just the fact that they can pull over even a couple of songs now that you would wanna hear in your MP3 player, car stereo or at home is pretty remarkable. It's nice to see that they still care, sometimes.

Not about their fans though. If you're a sucker enough to pay $100 to their fan club, you get the honor of then being first in line to pay top dollar for concert tix. The worst seats at their Madison Square Garden gig? $100. The best seats are over $450 (not including Ticketmaster's 'convenience charges') which means that a couple will dish out about a grand for the honor of seeing their heros up close, without binoculars. Compare that to Sir Elton who's also playing the Garden this month- the nosebleed seats are half the price of comparable ones for the Stones. It's supply and demand, right? When someone asked them at a press conference if they're in it for the moola, they laughed it off. Surely, it's obviously that they're already richer than we'll ever be but then why do they need to bilk their fans unless they think it'll prove that they're such a great commodity that they must charge them top dollar just to see them.

Strange that no one's pointed out how greedy these guys are. Maybe they don't expect any better from them nowadays? Maybe it's also because this isn't the first time that they've been accused of shaking down their fans. On their 1969 tour, they were pestered about the high prices for their shows. To answer the charges, they offered to do a live show at the end of the tour as a present to their fans. That would have been Altamont. Since we all know how that turned out, maybe it's just as well that they stay greedy bastards.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Kanye West's stereotypes

In light of similar comments by Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Neville, the angry comments from Kanye West seem less outrageous and more part of a collective feeling of abandonment of the government of the black population in New Orleans. Nevertheless, it was a courageous thing of West to say and NBC, no doubt mindful of a rabid FCC ready to fine over anything controversial, felt bound to cut out his comments from a West Coast broadcast.

Lest you think that he's just recently thinking about race, a fine article in Time Magazine (Why You Can't Ignore Kanye, August 28, 2005) shows that he's had this in mind for while now. He sees himself as a victim of stereotypes concerning rappers- not just how they're seen outside the industry but within the music industry as well: "It was a strike against me that I didn't wear baggy jeans and jerseys and that I never hustled, never sold drugs." Even after proving himself as a producer, there were still doubts about him, even from one of his most famous clients. Jay Z: "We all grew up street guys who had to do whatever we had to do to get by. Then there's Kanye, who to my knowledge has never hustled a day in his life. I didn't see how it could work." But earlier in the article, we're reminded of rap's not-always-street origins. Chris Rock: "In the early days, the best rappers weren't necessarily from the hood. Run-D.M.C. was from Hollis [Queens, N.Y.]. Eric B and Rakim were from Long Island. They lived next to the hood." Later, West complains about closed-minded attitudes, presumably not just in the music biz but also in the audience itself: "Black people can be the most conservative, the most discriminating. Especially among ourselves. It wasn't white people who said all black men have to wear baggy jeans..."

Black self-criticism is a thorny issue. Just ask Bill Cosby. West figures that his status allows him to make big statements not just in his albums but also in his media appearances. He's definitely right to the extent that his status means that people will listen and debate what he has to say, especially if he goes out on a limb. His comments about race are complex but he obviously has enough conviction behind what he says (and his audience's ability to pick up on it) to say these things in the first place. Can a major black entertainment figure say on one hand that many blacks have tunnel-vision while at the same time say that Prez Bush has his own tunnel-vision about the black population itself? Evidently, yes, it can be done. These kind of statements are not to be taken likely and that's surely what West contends. The safe thing would have been to not grouse against buppie-hating or to just tell potential relief donors to give money while not pointing any fingers explicitly. Surely, some people will figure some of this is just a ploy to promote his new record but that would only make sense if he has things to say that didn't alientate his audience or a potentially even larger audience that he hopes to reach.

The conventional wisdom in the biz is to go by psychiatric ward rules: steer clear from religion (just ask Tom Cruise), politics or sex (at least explicitly, but that keeps changing). West has already got religion ("Jesus Walks" is still one of the most amazing rap singles ever) and politics covered. I can't say that I'm dying to hear what he says about sex but if his past is any indication, it'll start some good debates. It might not be as completely thought out as his namesake, Princeton's Professor Cornell West (who he was mistaken for by a Mississippi congressman on a CNN interview) but Kanye does make better rap records for sure.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Disaster reactions- the ostrich position or porn

I've been curious about recent articles concerning two types of reactions to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the first case, the story of compounded grief is turning people away, unable to cope with the scenes of misery that are broadcast everyday. The alternative is then any kind of escapist fare, which is one explanation of why movies like Wedding Crashers and the 40 Year Old Virgin did so well at the box office in an otherwise crappy year for theatres. Another sign of this is this Mediaweek article: Newsweeklies See Soft Single-Copy Sales. Note this particular sentence: "There's so much going on in the world- war, floods, famine- that the celebrity stuff is providing more vacation-type reading." So basically, the news magazines are getting clobbered in sales compared to the celebrity weeklies which feature 'soft news.' That isn't to say that no one is concerned (millions of people are still reading Newsweek, Time, etc. or watching CNN) but this kind of ostrich mentality (you know, bury your head in the ground) isn't easy to scoff at. You watch some of the newscasters at the scene of the disaster and more and more, you notice not just how tired they are but also angry and disgusted about how thousands are people are suffering for no good reason. How does a rational person try to cope with that day after day and remain sane?

A friend who was visiting from the Midwest this past weekend told me that she was having the same kind of feelings. She said that after 9-11 and Iraq War and now this, it's hard to maintain shock endlessly to these events. I'm sure some people will think that's callous but she did have a point, especially when you're not directly effected. Having seen the World Trade Center collapse in the distance and not on a TV set, I have no doubt that 9-11 is seared into my brain permanently but for someone who wasn't here, maybe it's not the same thing, even if you see the images replayed on TV again and again.

That replaying or extending of a story leads to another type of viewership. As the Post Gazette notes in Desperation, death make compelling television, the cable news channels have reaped rating rewards for their constant coverage, which some media observers have dubbed "Storm Porn" (Christ, what a stupid term). Note this particular passage from Professor Robert Thomspon about how a natural disaster is covered:

"They start with the blustery, breathless reports that a hurricane is coming, and then when the storm hits the reporters go out there in the wind, and then, inevitably, there's the aftermath, with the extraordinary photos of damage and the interviews with people who are going to leave.

"But Katrina is different," Thompson said. "You are seeing not just the usual post-storm aftermath, but the spectacle of a complex, technologically dependent, civilized society, New Orleans, totally breaking down before your eyes.

And that's the part which is simultaneously fascinating and disturbing. But in the end, what would we have these outlets covering otherwise? Another celebrity trial? Given the choice, I'd rather learn and hear more about what's happening in New Orleans, what's been done to help the people there and what still needs to be done.

With regard to that, one thing that's helping to give hope to the city is its rich cultural heritage. Many benefits and resources are being set up by and for musicians to help. A fine article at Salon (New Orleans Rising) notes the many efforts being made as well as a stalwart point that many of the musicians who relied on local gigs will now have to tour for a while to make their living- in other words, go out and support them when they come to your town.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Alex Chilton found, many others still missing

After rumors swirling around, it's confirmed now- see this article from a Memphis paper. I'm grateful but then again, LX is known for getting through strange and difficult times.

There are still thousands of people missing though and many others looking for homes and shelters so please don't forget them. See this listing at for charities that are aiding these victims and how you can help.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hard times in the Big Easy

The sight of a major American city being washed away was striking and horrifying enough but that was nothing compared to the now-homeless people there pleading for help (food, shelter) on the news programs. The sight of people wading through disease-infested water, waving for helicopters on rooftops, sweltering in the heat with thousands of others inside stadiums with no electrical power, others walking for hours just to escape town is almost unbearable. Maybe we're wondering how this could happen in the most prosperous nation in the world but the sad fact is that some of the poorest counties in this country who were already barely surviving were hit the worst by this disaster. As I've argued with others, I do understand someone taking food or water to survive when there's no help coming otherwise (but taking electronics isn't only over the top but where are they going to use these things?)

News reports are already coming out (ABC did a great job with this) that there had been warnings for years that this kind of tragedy was on its way but ignored by the federal government. Molly Irvins' article A Flood of Bad Policies sums this up well: the gist of it is that when we look to sink all of our resources into Iraq, we neglect home and suffer for it accordingly.

Among the many missing were a number of notable musicians. Thankfully, Fats Domino has been found but there are mixed reports about the whereabouts of Alex Chilton (who stayed to ride out the storm), Allen Toussaint (possibly evacuated to the Superdome) and Irma Thomas (unknown). I hope they're alright. I hope everyone who survived the storm is alright.

I urge anybody reading this to donate to The American Red Cross to help the people in New Orleans. I know that there are a lot of benefit concerts that are coming up soon but the fact of the matter is that the people hit by this disaster cannot afford to wait any longer for help. Thanks in advance for anything you can do.