moments before the wind.

May 5, 2007

can still burn your fingers

Filed under: authenticity, country, folk, indie, live shows, music, news, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 8:00 am

Last night’s Elvis Costello show at the Sunset Tavern was a benefit for 826 Seattle, the quirky, fun, and incredibly dedicated tutoring center fronted by a Space Travel Supply Store.

Quirky, fun, and incredibly dedicated? Sounds like 826 has found their musical counterpart. I’m not sure if the idea for the benefit came from 826 or was a secondary decision, but there could not have been a better chosen figure for celebration in their presence. And I feel like I am qualified to say this because not only am I a huge Elvis fan but also I am an 826 volunteer.

Think about it this way. What would you expect the audience to look like at an 826 benefit? Bookish, plastic frames, slightly less casual clothes, clean-cut-yet-subtly-hip seriousness of people who appreciate serious art. Add a tie and there you have it – the audience you’d expect at an Elvis Costello tribute concert. A marriage made in heaven.

It was a packed house, sold out in under an hour. There were 15 bands, each doing one to three songs. Even the selection was hyper-indie selective, only rarely would a group allow the audience the pleasure of doing one of Elvis’s smash hits. Highlights:
-both versions of “Indoor Fireworks”
-”Living in Paradise” sung in octaves with an acoustic guitar
-”Miracle Man,” because it’s currently hanging on my wall also
-The intense wordiness that I hear as Costello’s magic touch, filtered through all these other bands…it was like American Idol, seeing how the various singers would attempt to do what seems to come so naturally to the writer. Some did a really awesome job. It reminds you od Elvis’s brilliance, because you don’t realize how complex the music is until you try and perform it yourself.
-This beautiful Gibson guitar that one of the performers used. I think it was a Hummingbird.

By the way, 826 Seattle is one of the best things. Period. If you don’t know much about it or what they do, please visit their site and check it out. Space travel is just the beginning. They are always, always looking for volunteers in one way or another, and I have never had a more rewarding experience. I was not asked to make this statement. It’s really true.

May 3, 2007

some day he will live to regret me

Filed under: folk, indie, music, recording, reviews, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 1:49 pm

Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No. 2 is playing at Victrola. I happened to be walking by and could not stop myself from coming in to listen to the rest of it. Whatta great record. I think it’s her best one. Perfect thing to hear on this sunny/windy/freezing in the cold Seattle spring day. WHen you can get sunburn and goosebumps at the same time.

Me and my friend Hanon have reconnected. Oh, it’s been so long, and such a joyous double return.

May 1, 2007

but i’m gonna stay

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, folk, live shows, music, news, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 9:51 pm

Here’s something cool. So last week I spent all this time at the EMP listening to lectures and pondering music, and this week I get to play my own music in the same space.

And I thought I was getting better at the whole world collision thing, but now they collide in the same space in the same fortnight. That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Details:
Thursday, May 3
6:30PM
EMP SKY CHURCH, Seattle, WA
FREE

Not only is the show free, but the whole EMP and SFM are open to the public from 5-8PM. Also the Old Bay Warblers, my old-time outfit, will be making a brief appearance. Check it out!

April 30, 2007

by the stars of the southern hemisphere

The Pop Conference has this way of subsiding but never really ending, because all of a sudden I start to see everything as this reflection of some kind of culture war being played out in the musical arena.

Anyways, I have a big list of other blogs from EMP speakers. It’s almost done, and I think close to comprehensive, so stay tuned for that. I just need a little more motivation to sit down and finish it.

For now, something different. I’m reviewing this book called Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, who is this classic American songwriter that I’ve never heard of before who seems to have worked with anyone important who ever existed(Elvis, Billie, B.B., Dylan…). More on that in the actual review when it comes out at www.rivetmagazine.org.

What I am responding to most immediately has nothing to do with the book or the story of this particular guy’s life. It’s the format of the book. The litany of people, dinners, run-ins, venues, the teeming masses of unheard of musicians that form this amoeba-like body of artists and businesspeople what somehow every now and then spits out music that we’ve grown to know and love. It’s just an endless catalog of conversations and half-remembered, half-reconstructed memories. Doesn’t matter who the book is about. I think about Wall of Pain, the Phil Spector bio, or David Hadju’s one about the burgeoning 60′s folk scene, Dylan/Baez/Farina-style. It’s like there is no way to expose the complex network of assoications that add up to a career, so all there is to do is make these lists.

And then we read the lists. Abandoning all expectation of narrative for the moments where we come upon certain obscure names, have a private moment of recognition at this odd factoid of history revealed. It’s sort of like scanning the wedding announcements in the paper and, like I do every few weeks, recognizing someone from high school or somewhere else.

And then the names all start to overlap. They’re all in each other’s biographies, all the same cast of characters. It’s like reading the same story over and over again, told from a slightly different angle.

How else can you write a book about such a big thing? I think about what Rushdie wrote in Midnight’s Children: “To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world.” True. House of Leaves is also like that, and it’s not a list. Biographers aren’t novelists, I get that…but still…show me a music biography that goes beyond. Please.

April 23, 2007

EMP Pop Conference #16 – End Bits

One thing that I continually find entertaning is the feedback loop at the conference, presenters quoting writers to help support their point, and those writers are literally sitting in the audience listening to their own words spoken back to them. This kind of validation (or cancellation?) is a kind of black hole, a weird moment in time when the reasoning behind an argument starts to sound circular. For some reason the fact that the original writer is in the room listening sort of serves to render the intellectual capacity of the argument null and void. Like anything that is circular, you have to wonder whether it’s useful to end up where you started. Of course it can be. And of course it can’t be.

Also.

There seemed to be an exceptional amount of political commentaries built into the arguments I saw. The theme of the conference, “Waking Up From History,” propelled many writers to arrive at the concusion that we should actually wake up TO history, to learn from history, and to draw conclusions between the cultural sphere that our work covers and the political sphere of which we are citizens.

Some examples:

-Robert Bennett on the Jazz Diplomacy program and the things we should learn from it.
-Scott Nelson’s timely mention of “abortive gun policies” in the paper about John Henry’s exhumation – I’m not sure how he managed to reference the VA. Tech shootings in that conversation but at the time it made perfect sense.
-Brendan Greaves’ talk of Terry Allen’s border politics and the ways in which the Texas/Mexico border is treated by the government versus the inhabitants. 
-There was also an entire panel about New Orleans, as well as a smattering of other related papers throughout the weekend, all of which contained a fervent expression of the power of music and solidarity and the essential character of the city.

In general, as there seems to be in more and more things these days, there was a real sense of urgency that was more palpable than in previous conferences. It may have been the effect of the theme, but in general people’s research was very much rooted in the grim realities of life and music’s ability to help maintain and even create hope where all seems quite hopeless.

EMP Pop Conference #15 – Analog as Analogy

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, digital, distribution, folk, indie, marketing, music, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 2:18 pm

Erik Davis brought a decidedly esoteric (in a good way) perspective to the issue of the analog/digital divide. He quotes Joanna Newsom speaking of her analog aesthetic as a reaction to the “crispy mosquito of digital sound boring into your brain.” Fantastic, in both ways.

Enlarging the divide into a debate about Analog Ethics (could be the name of the best graduate seminar EVER), Davis proceeded to codify the opposing notions of analog and digital in a larger framework, ultimately reducing it to the phenomenological difference between the wave and the particle. If you are me, then this is incredibly interesting considering that you believe the ultimate meaning in paradox is that they collapse each other into one and the same thing, though you don’t know what to name that thing or whether to liken it to religion, existence, life, or anything more mundane like music.

Also, if you are me, you will find yourself up against a kind of wall, because if digital and analog are all part of it, whatever it is, then what the hell is real and what is fake and what is worth arguing about anyways?

Well, here’s a thought. Davis spoke of the freak folk genre (boy, I dislike that term!) as a crowd that generally seeks authenticity in their musical experience. But I have to wonder about seeking authenticity. Is seeking authenticity akin to seeking good karma? I always thought that someone seeking good karma is totally missing the point, because then they are acting in complete self-interest. So if one is seeking authenticity, then are they truly false as a result of their hyper-conscious (postmodern) decisions?

But gah, authenticity!

EMP Pop Conference #14 – Van the Man

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, country, distribution, folk, music, recording, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 1:51 pm

A note about a song. Charles Hughes said that “Dark End of the Street” (1967) should be America’s national anthem. I didn’t previously know the song, but the part of it he played was beautiful. It made me think of Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road,” released in 1979 on Into the Music, because of the obvious lyrical relationship.

Where writers Dan Penn and Chips Moman write:

I know time’s gonna take its toll
We have to pay for the love we stole
It’s a sin and we know it’s wrong
Oh, our love keeps going on strong
Steal away to the dark end of the street
You and me

Van says:

Little darlin, come with me
Wont you help me share my load
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

In my mind, there’s no other possibility except that Van is responding to this hugely popular song of the previous decade. It’s just too explicit. I wonder what Hughes would say about the racial politics surrounding Van and his music, with the mixture of a serious anglo-saxon background and a decidedly soul, R&B musical influence. Maybe he would say that the exact kind of hybrid that Van exemplifies is a direct product of the mishmash love triangle in the south. See this for more on that.

EMP Pop Conference #13 – What You See Is What You Get

Filed under: authenticity, country, distribution, folk, live shows, music, radio, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 1:32 pm

Michael Bertrand spoke of the radio barndance on WLS in the 20′s and specifically on the minstrelsy aspect of the shows.

Without getting into the details, I just want to post this quote from his presentation. It’s a wonderful thought and is applicable to most everything in today’s world as well:

“When listeners heard dialect through their radio transmitters, what exactly did they see?”

I mention this because I think we all conjure up visual images in the absence of being provided one. Especially when we read books, there’s an imaginary space in our minds that we situate stories within. On the radio, especially the kind of radio that is pre-television, serial soap operas and variety shows, it’s just the same. And of course every listener conjures a different image. What an idea, that every perspective is completely relative. Maybe it’s the same even when we are provided with visuals.

Another barndance based out of Nashville in the 20′s is still running today; it’s called the Grand Ole Opry.

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