moments before the wind.

June 29, 2006

it’s too far gone, too far gone

Filed under: indie, live shows, music, radio, reviews — alimarcus @ 7:52 am

Yesterday afternoon I was so exhausted, just totally wiped, when I got home from work. I knew I had to do a million errands (upcoming  vacation) and there was just one thing I knew would keep me going: Mariah Carey.

Now, for those of you that up until this point thought I was a guy (and i know more of you are out there), it’s not true. I came of age in Mariah’s golden age – “Emotions,” “Always Be My Baby,” “Dreamlover,” “Hero.” How much time would I spend over at my neighbor’s house just waiting for a Mariah video to come on MTV? It never took too long. I never was into the other stuff, like the butterflies and whatnot, and not even really her music after, say, 1995 (Kurt Cobain eventually won that battle), but those songs – really. Yesterday it somehow made cleaning up my apartment and making all those phone calls doable, at a time when I really did not want to do anything.

This is just another reason why music is triple cool. It motivates, and it really influences your mood. On the flipside of things, if I am in a store or a restaurant and the music that is playing makes me cringe (imagine!) then it ruins my mood. I mean not for the entire day, but for those 3 or 4 minutes, I can’t really focus on anything else b/c the disbelief, or pain, of having to be in the same room is just too much.

And then there’s this thing that happened at work yesterday. We, like many Seattle-ites and beyond, frequently have KEXP on during the day. THis band called West Indian Girl (I think that’s it) had an in-studio yesterday and wow, were they awful. This wasn’t even the usual case of KEXP’s tendency towards the weird, or the super indie, or just something I didn’t like. This was a band with two singers who for some reason wrote in a lot of harmonies without addressing the fact that neither one of them can stay on tune. It was fingernail-scraping to listen to. Flat fifths, flat melodies, and a general yell-iness that did not help the shrill factor. OW. Maybe I needed Mariah to balance that out, like the jagged soundwaves had been reverberating in my head the entire afternoon and they needed a good swift kick in the pants to expunge them from my subconscious.

As I mentioned vacation starts today and there will be no blogging, either from the rainforest or the beach or the lavender mocha stand.  Have a lovely weekend; I know I will. Do you live in Seattle? Holy moly, it’s nice here, isn’t it?


June 27, 2006

i can hear ’em buzzin’

Filed under: authenticity, business, music, news, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 8:31 am

Last night Chuck Klosterman came to Elliott Bay Books to “read” from Killing Yourself To Live, a book that’s been out since 2005. No matter; the store was packed. I wasn’t there to hear his book, and he wasn’t even there to read from it. Through a Q&A session that sounded more like a press briefing at times, it turned into “Klosterman on the music biz,” covering topics that are all the rage these days, like the OC, MySpace, hype about bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and then hype itself.

It was pretty interesting only in the sense that Klosterman is pretty good at deflecting questions about judgement. Being a pop culture professor in the way he is, it would be almost unfair for him to get all snobby about taste…until he does, and then I got interested. Eventually people got him talking, and this was the best part:

“I hate the fact that newness has become such an important quality to the value of music,” he sputtered. He went on to say that his goal is to not listen to anything that has been out for less than a year, in order to avoid the inevitable “avalanche of shit” that clogs up the streets. Or, wires. While Klosterman rightly made the objection to a question about today’s highly disposable music (based on the truth that pop music’s always been disposable, we just dont know about it b/c it’s been disposed of), he never quite acknowledged what I think some people were getting at. Is music today worse because of the medium through which it communicates?

It’s pretty obvious why Klosterman would avoid judgement on this one. I’m inclined to agree with his vaguely circular answer, that these things are cyclical, and just as youth becomes age becomes youth, one would expect musical value to be experienced through the same lens.

 One more thing: someone asked about SPIN‘s new redesign, wanting to know Chuck’s take on the corporate drama. In trying to gloss over his feelings for Andy Pemberton (former Blender guy, now SPIN guy) he called him “anit-intellectual,” but then lost his composure and I think was looking for a laugh and blurted out “he’s just a dumb guy.” I don’t think it’s actually a war between the pitiful businessmen and the splendid writers though; all those magazines are struggling. It’s like if Rolling Stone represents rock music, who started off against the man and who now is the man and quite comfortable being the man until they have to be the man.

June 26, 2006

on my mind tonight

Filed under: business, country, folk, indie, live shows, music, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 6:36 pm

Elvis has been in the air a lot lately. Last week I wrote a song called “Long Black Train” that kind of sort of came from Elvis’ version of “Mystery Train” which is  a Junior Parker song and also a Greil Marcus book. So when I played the song at the Hopvine I played a bit of the Elvis tune as an introduction, meaning to make the connection obvious. Instead I think I just confused people. Sometimes what makes sense in my head, or seems obvious to me, has no effect on other people. But I try. So last night I tried the song again somewhere else, and again there was a bit of a misunderstanding – “I liked that Elvis song you played!” – more than one person didn’t realize the transition. I’ll need to figure out something better.

Anyways, the audience last night wanted Costello, not Presley, but I did the Presley anyways, only to get to hear Costello later from someone else. Coincidentally, Costello was actually in Seattle last night, playing a show at a winery. It was altogether too expensive to dig up the funds, which upset me about a month ago but I have since gotten over it. I had forgotten that his show was to be June 25th, and I find it pretty cool that he was somewhere near here in the midst of all this Elvis boo bah.

I sincerely do wish that shows didn’t cost so much. I figure in that respect I am trying to do my part by keeping my own ticket prices low. $5 for an upcoming show at Jammin’ Java in Virginia. You should come. It will be quite a ride. Maybe I’ll try the Elvis thing again.

June 24, 2006

low bridge

Filed under: authenticity, country, folk, live shows, music, news, reviews, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 9:08 am

Jon Pareles takes issue with the A-word and the Boss today (here). He basically places Bruce in the category of the Folk Revival, and in a brief recap of what that meant 50 years ago manages to cover the whole Seeger Sessions album with a multi-culti, useless gloss. It's not that Pareles says a lot of negative things about the new songs, not at all. And I don't expect reviews to gush the way I did, but I guess I would expect someone like Jon Pareles to focus more on the now than the then. Because this isn't 1958, and various musical and political movements have come and gone, and Springsteen deserves more than to be grouped into a 50-year old daguerrotype. The obvious mistake (like Reagan's of "Born in the USA") is to see Springsteen cover Seeger and then assume that it's part of the same motivations, that Springsteen is trying to be Seeger.

It's pretty obvious to me that Springsteen is just being Springsteen. There are definitely cultural things happening, musically, like red flags. The preponderance of what people call Americana, the rise of mags like Paste and No Depression, and things like the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and Hurricane Katrina-inspired tributes. If you asked me, I'd say that the barriers are breaking down, that "rock" is too hard to define (and so is "country," but this is still under investigation in Ali-land), and that authenticity isn't about how things sound.

For Jon Pareles to say that the Boss and his band are "about as authentic as a covered wagon with chrome wheels" is an insulting dismissal of one of the most authentic projects I've heard in a while. Even from Springsteen himself. And I know that it's not cool to care about authenticity anymore, because then you'd be a rockist, (which sometimes leads to being racist), and it's truly the fault of rock that all this seriousness is so important in the first place. But what I see with this new record is an artist that has found a new way to make old music new. This version of "Shenandoah," for instance, ain't nothing like the way I learned it in third grade. And "John Henry"? It sounds as if it was written for Bruce to sing. Going back and listening to Guthrie sing it makes Guthrie seem like the poseur.

A simpler, but probably more complex, way to put this is that there are two kinds of cover songs. There is "Hallelujah" and there is "Hound Dog." Either an artist covers a song and makes it unbearable, the listener wishing for only one thing in the world and that is to hear the original, ASAP; or, an artist covers a song and actually comes to own it in their own right. (These examples don't have to be specifically about these songs, I'm just using my own opinions: Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley's vocal timbres are like cosmic aesthetic archnemesi, and even though Big Mama Thornton's version is pretty kickass, remember she didn't write the song, Leiber and Stoller did.) What we have with The Seeger Sessions is a "Hound Dog," no question about it. Just like that Ed Sullivan show and the pelvis and the dancing and the lip curl was really a central part of the essence of Elvis Presely, this music, particularly this presentation of it, is one of Springsteen's hallmarks: it's showy, its spiritual, and it's truly responding to a cultural moment. On my first hearing of this album, it was shocking, jarring really, how much this band owns these songs. As much as everyone owns songs. It was like a slap in the face, it was that instantaneous. So that's authenticity: he means it. If he didn't mean it, the music would not be so good.

"A covered wagon with chrome wheels"? Not only is that hokey, that's kitsch-hokey. More appropriate for that description would be…CocoRosie, or maybe the new New Order stuff, if we can go there. As far as I can tell, it hasn't become kitsch to be serious, like a sick vortex of mockery, at least outside of the super indie-riffic universe where the more mockery you can stomach, the better. And Pareles makes it clear that the band is having fun, the show is an experience of fun.

So what is the problem here? 

1. Politics. It could be that we are so hungry for stand-up political statements that we are attaching these grandiose associations in all the wrong places. (I even think that A Prairie Home Companion is a political allegory.) But Bruce is all about grandiose displays, and we already know that he is lefty-supportive, so it could very well be much more explicit than audience-mongering media would readily admit.

2. Folk. I cringe at the misguided, brush-off way that folk music is used. All music is folk music! I'm going to figure out a way to work that into everything I write, or as much as I possibly can.

June 23, 2006

always been courted by the wagoner’s lad

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, business, digital, distribution, marketing, music, news — alimarcus @ 3:15 pm

Coolfer posts about the irony of digital music today, an obvious point that is not often touched on. He writes: “It’s the great contradiction of the “celestial jukebox.” As wonderful as it will be to have access to all the world’s recorded music, who has the time to listen to even a fraction of a percent of it? Nobody. (But at least it’s there to be heard, given the opportunity.)” I added the italics. And here’s why.

I am again reminded of that NYT article that concludes: “the technology of search will transform isolated books into the universal library of all human knowledge.”

It’s an existential paradox. Of course people can’t absorb all the information in the world. As Glenn points out though, it’s the knowledge that it’s out there. It’s the very existence of the accessibility. That is the draw. THat is the drawback. Isn’t it fascinating how much power an idea can have? Even when it’s an impossible reality? I mean, the fact that one could listen to all the music that’s out there, or read all the books. It doesn’t so much matter, the reality, does it?

The last time Nietzche was brought up it had to do with communism and racism and Greil Marcus. This time I simply want to say that the connection between existentialism and technology is asserting its presence here. This is probably something that many people have studied or know about, but it’s just occurred to me now, that learning about how big the world is makes one feel small. And Coolfer’s use of “celestial jukebox” makes me wonder, though, if Nietzche, even his era, is the root of this, because I’d be inclined to say no, that it has more to do with astronomy, so we can thank ancient Greece for that.

A related concern of mine is that the proliferation of music everywhere is turning music into Muzak. It’s all about having a constant soundtrack, constant sound in the background. It becomes secondary, rather than the focused activity of listening to it. Besides, you can’t even tell when you are hearing Muzak anymore, now that they simply license the music for their use.

June 22, 2006

but i never, ever came to

Filed under: music — alimarcus @ 4:13 pm

I came across this blog post by Kyle Gann (from John Shaw) about piano for four hands and I'm strangely taken with the idea. The only person I ever played four hands with was my brother, in our early teen years, and I've honestly never considered the romantic possibilities…but yes! sign me up. All of the silly attempts at guitar-driven flirting that I've had to sit through over the years (especially in college, especially with "Crash," "Wonderful Tonight," anything acoustic by Ben Harper) pale in comparison to the possibilties of crossed arms and sidelong glances.

June 21, 2006

anyone other than me

Filed under: authenticity, business, digital, indie, music, news, reviews, writing — alimarcus @ 6:26 pm

So many articles about Pitchfork these days. There’s so much hype about how everyone loves to hate the website that I feel like it’s already become passe to love to hate the site. Everyone loves a success story, especially one that people constantly argue about. I guess in the world of music writing it’s a goldmine, then.

 And when will we get articles about online influence without Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, MySpace, and Pitchfork like a holy trinity? If a moevement has poster children, does that mean that it hasn’t become mainstream yet, or does it mean that it’s already assimilated? I am not sure.

What I do know is that Ryan Schreiber, Pitchfork founder and indie glam superstar slacker, has a tricky relationship with editorial. On the one hand, he makes an absolutely excellent point in this City Pages article: “The last thing that I would want to do is dumb it down. It’s not dumb enough is not a valid argument. More and more, criticism is not about criticism; it’s about making comparisons. If you like this band, you might like this. To me, that’s not what criticism ever was.” Rock on Ryan, I’ve been preaching the very same doctrine. But on the other hand, he shirks editorial responsibility over his freelancers, and as the head of a publication, that’s just plain irresponsible. “I trust the writers to their opinions and to their own style and presentation,” he states. What the article calls “chronically unedited [and] overly florid” writing comes off to the reader as laziness, or at least it does to me.

Clearly Pitchfork has a reputation and a perspective. And perhaps part of their schtick is to prioritize creative freedom. Having not written for Pitchfork, I wouldn’t know how they stand up to other publications and other editor’s pens. But here’s the thing. Lester Bangs is a blessing and a curse, because everyone wants to write like him and virtually no one can pull it off. It seems like Pitchfork is trying to cultivate that I’ll-write-whatever-I-feel-like-writing aesthetic that Bangs is famous for. I lost my patience for them months ago though, so I couldn’t even tell you if they are hitting the mark at all. Does that make me unqualified to even critique? Maybe. Also, maybe I would like the site better if they reviewed more music that I actually think is good!

June 19, 2006

she once was a true love of mine

Filed under: authenticity, digital, distribution, folk, marketing, music, news, producers, writing — alimarcus @ 4:23 pm

Did you know that Danger Mouse is only 28 years old? Me neither. Chuck Klosterman profiled him in this article in the Sunday Times Magazine, which is producing more consistently interesting music articles lately. Media articles in general, really. I know that they got on the shit list after that Mark Warner profile but everyone needs a little redemption every now and then. Chuck Klosterman rocks.

The whole Gnarls Barkley thing isn't that interesting; in my opinion, the songs aren't nearly as good as the Grey Album or Demon Days, but I definitely see what DM is going for with the Woody Allen stars in his eyes. It's super-egotistical to be such a control freak, but it's admirable, if a bit maniacal, to go around saying it so bluntly. Klosterman depicts DM as a talented, inexperienced dude who keeps his eyes open because he knows that he hardly knows anything – as evidenced by the little tale about how DM "discovered" Pink Floyd in a bar in 1995. Whoa.

I think that Klosterman was using DM's auteur aesthetic fro film directors as a conceit, because it makes for a nice jolt of thought and it was DM's own comparison, but I'm not so sure that it holds up. To say that Woody Allen is more like Brian Eno than Phil Spector – well, it's all pretty abstruse to me. A movie director, an album producer, an influential A&R rep, or the artist themselves – anyone could be responsible for the vision, depending on context. It's certainly possible in music, and no way would DM be the first. I think Spector could win, but you see, it all depends on your perspective because so could Alan Lomax, who defined a still-existing perception of "field recordings" and rural music.

Anyways, I guess DM is trying to distinguish himself, and that he will – but it won't be because of an ambiguously false title. Naturally, the music itself has to stand out, and so far, I think he's doing an OK job of that. What was it that Christgau said? "Everything else is just posturing." No, wait, that was me. He said "it's about positioning." Right.

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