moments before the wind.

October 31, 2006

holes in my fishnets and holes in my last alibi

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, business, digital, distribution, indie, labels, marketing, music, news — alimarcus @ 8:22 am

Coolfer posted an interesting link today, to an article about Thrill Jockey and record labels’ reistance to downloading. Basically, owner Bettina Richards has decided to offer only full albums online, and lets people stream the albums for free so that they can decide to buy, or not. She also has all the liner notes readily available to browse while listening.

Richards makes an interesting point: “ITunes sells a lot of MP3s to sell MP3 players — they’re not in the game of label survival. I am.” Often, people don’t talk about the fact that iTunes is a warm up to the iPod. It’s well designed and popular, but the money comes from the hardware. Labels, so far, don’t quite have that luxury. Until they do – the U2 iPod being a good example of what’s to come. I’ve said it before that I truly am expecting Starbucks to come out with their own iPod as well, and I’m sure other folks will follow. Maybe the Zune folks over at Microsoft have something up their sleeve. It’s like the Hello Kitty phase that little girls go through when they are eight. People see these things as fashion and they identify, however silly it may be, with the design of the thing – branding is powerful. Using music and musicians as this means of identification is nothing new (see NKOTB lunch boxes) but suddenly it seems more necessary for survival. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the music itself.

So, going back to how small indies try to preserve their modestly good intentions. Rune Kristofferson of the Norwegian label Rune Grammofon distributes through Thrill Jockey mainly because his principles are in line. But still, he comments: “My main priority is the physical product, and I’m not even sure if I want us to continue being a label if downloading will take over.” Now this is less nihilistic than it sounds, I think. Maybe the perceptions of what record labels do are enough to get people into this business, and I’m willing to bet that the combination of finding out what really goes on, and the way technology is changing the industry, are going to drive a lot of people to re-evaluation. The concept of a record label is something we have in our minds that is becoming less and less the truth as the months go by. Fascinating, and a bit unfair, that there was definitely a stable period of standardization on which many people founded these beliefs, and now they have very much crumbled. I think it’s a glass half-empty/half-full kind of a thing.

October 29, 2006

ain’t no one going to turn me ’round

Filed under: authenticity, business, folk, music, news — alimarcus @ 11:14 am

This article in today’s paper – in the Style section, strangely enough – is about Jewface and pop culture assimilation. Interscope’s Courtney Holt, Warner’s David Katznelson, the Annenberg School’s Josh Kun, and Slate‘s Jody Rosen are attempting to emerge as the leaders of the popular culture rebirth of Jewish vaudeville music. I saw Rosen speak about Jewish assimilation and Tin Pan Alley at this past year’s EMP Pop Conference, was intrigued by some of the ideas he brought to the table, and am still more intrigued by his continuing pursuit of a nostalgic Jewish identity. As in, maybe it’s not so nostalgic after all.

After Rosen’s talk last spring, I wondered how applicable the idea of marginalization really was to later-generation Jews, young adults (or regular adults) who’s grandparents were born in America. Alex Williams, in today’s article (Is this the same Alex Williams I went to school with? I’d believe it) makes a lot of the obvious points, that this dialect music was a way for immigrants to feel like citizens, and resurfacing now in things like Heeb magazine and hipster-ifying the Jewish culture for the disaffected secular Jewish youths who in the end are still looking for a Nice Jewish Girl/Boy to marry, but on their own, far hipper, terms.

But here’s an interesting, and to me, entirely new, idea:
But to [Rosen], Jewish dialect music played a role similar to that which gangsta rap plays among African-Americans today. Vulgar and, to some, culturally debasing, it nevertheless managed to smuggle a subculture’s distinct idiom into mainstream popular culture, while creating jobs for entertainers, managers, theater owners and music publishing houses from the same culture.
“To some extent, people like to see themselves represented,” Mr. Rosen said, “even if they are badly represented.”

Food for thought, to think about levels of tolerance and how they may vary from one genre of music to another. And how it’s possible that even though they don’t come from the same roots, they have similar work to do.

My question about marginalization, though, is not yet answered. If you compare gangsta rap to the original form of this dialect, sure, the parallels are pretty crystal clear. But what about the revival of the form, 60-100 years later? What does this say about the generation of Americans that respond to it on a cultural level? I guess it’s possible that it’s just another kind of post-modern ironic situation, in line with things like retro-vintage fashion and other kinds of cyclical, nostalgic reproductions of the Warhol flavor.

I don’t particularly feel that Jews are really marginalized, or threatened because of their culture or religion. I recently read Phillip Roth’s The Plot Against America, and it was a fantastic book, and a fitting allegory for today’s cultural/political climate; but in the end, that’s what it is – an allegory. Any kind of marginalization that I’ve ever felt as a Jew has never been threatening, harmful, or anything that compares to, say, the kind of marginalization I’ve felt as a woman.

So when people take note of a revival of interest in a kind of music that recalls an era where it had much cultural significance, I wonder how that significance translates to these times, when much of the world’s injustice is constantly in front of our eyes to see, and none of it, save some celebrity gossip, has anything to do with Jews.

Am I reading too much into pop music? Maybe. But this article didn’t belong in the Style section.

[10/30/06: I have to amend that last statement because it’s not clear that I meant American Jews, specifically. Obviously there are plenty of global issues with Judaism, Israel, etc…sorry for any confusion.]

October 25, 2006

so now i wade in the muck and mire

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

Whew, okay, how about instead of bashing more music, I’ll rave about some. Sound good? Great. Conrad Ford is a Seattle band that I recently came across, and so far I can’t get enough of their album, Don’t You Miss Yourself. I wrote up a review for a magazine, so you’ll have to wait ’til that comes out for the really articulate criticism, but the basic gist of their sound is this spare, winter room with nothing on the walls and a snowscape out the window. The other image that pops into my head is the room that Michael Stipe hangs around in for the “Losing My Religion” music video. They’re into banjos and slide guitar, so it’s a bit country, and a bit more honky, but generally you’ll feel more like you are listening to rock music than to twang. Maybe that’s why Stipe pops to mind.

I hear they will be playing a show on November 4 in Bellevue, though I have yet to find out where and when. But I’m working on it. Check ’em out, and pick up their album, because, take my word, it’s one of those albums that will get you through the chilly months.

October 24, 2006

we come with a funky style

Filed under: music, reviews — alimarcus @ 8:37 am

Boring, Oregon is a town near Portland where there are a whole bunch of fields and an annual folk music festival. Just boring, though, is a young woman, and her name is Norah Jones.

No matter what I do, I cannot understand why people think Norah Jones is so great. She’s beautiful, yes, and she has a nice voice, and I hear that her piano skills are impressive, but the combination has never gotten my attention and I am continually shocked at the sheer number of people who love her stuff. It’s boring. Every song sounds the same. And it’s all so hushy. I totally understand how it appeals to the older set, who finally are able to be hip without having to beat their eardrums with ripping guitar lines or pounding beats. And I suppose she is good for the jazz folk b/c as a crossover type, she brings people into the jazz world that never would have found their own way. But man, listening to her music just makes me groan.

If she’s really as talented as she’s cracked up to be, then I challenge her to live up to the hype and write something that does more than soothe the frazzled nerves of contemporary America. Music should bring something to an audience that they weren’t aware of, or didn’t have, or just didn’t have the words for. What her music does is quite different; her music says “shhh…its alright…just go to sleep…” etc. etc.

October 23, 2006

ta na na, ta na na na

Filed under: authenticity, digital, music, recording, rock, vinyl, writing — alimarcus @ 8:31 am

Tape. Have people forgotten about tape? It’s impractical, I know. It unspools and rips apart inside the machine, and it ruins your afternoon when an irreplaceable mix tape is ruined that way. It has this soft sound that’s really soothing. Right now I’m in a theoretical exploration of compression, and in thinking about the physical realities of pop music today, about how it is truly, scientificaly harmful to your ears (“aural assault?”), I’m just sitting here listening to Graceland on tape and it’s just so soothing.

Kelefa Sanneh’s article in today’s paper is about Paul Simon’s nervous energy, and it draws a fantastic parallel between Simon’s obsessive percussion pursuits and his percussive lyrical quality. But it doesn’t make me nervous. Even if I were listening to it on vinyl, or on CD, it wouldnt make me nervous. So I know that this soothing feeling is more of a function of the music itself – “His path was marked by the stars of the southern hemisphere…” – but still. Tape is so…pleasant. A bit muffled. As if the music’s on but you’re still under the covers.

Losing love is like a windown in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

October 19, 2006

leaving on a big jet

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

Trouble at The Stranger. A music-related advertising person was caught writing music reviews under a penname. This person along with the music editor of the mag resigned because of it. Editorial and advertising are supposed to be totally separate, journalistic integrity and all that, but Jen Graves’ piece, which is sort of an apology and sort of a defense, standing up for The Stranger‘s right to walk the line b/c of their rebellious nature. Which is total BS, for two reasons. One, The Stranger is not punk rock, and the fact that they think they are only takes away from their ability to really publish good writing, which does happen, but not nearly often enough. And two, every publication blurs the line somewhere. Integrity is like restaurant health codes: even if the food that arrives at your table looks exsquisite, you have no idea what was going on backstage. And most people don’t want to know, they just want to believe it’s kosher. Calling a spade a spade, which The Stranger thinks they’re so good at doing, doesn’t clean the kitchen counter, if you know what I mean.

 I don’t have a personal vendetta against The Stranger, I just don’t like their ‘tude. I even went there for a meeting once, and met this guy who’s now the tarnished music editor. He was a really nice guy, and so were the other folks. They sure didn’t seem to act the way their writing sounds. It made me stop and wonder, about what the weight of people’s expectations can really do. I wonder who the new editor will be.

October 18, 2006

thunderstorms will make you feel so small

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, folk, indie, music, news, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 6:06 pm

The album is called “Miles and Miles and Miles” because every song on it is in one way or another about places, distances, all ways, here and there, coming and going, traveling and being in one place or another. Once I wrote this song and I called it “Places I’ve Been This Semester” because I chronicled a bunch of trips and what they meant, at least inside my head, and I think that somehow I never really stopped doing that. In one way or another, the songs are all places I’ve been. It’s not semesters anymore, but no matter. It seems like everyone is traveling these days, in one way or another, towards or away from things, or behind and in front of, above and below. The line “I’ve been walking for miles and miles and miles and miles” is sometimes how it feels, when you look around.

And when I look at the songs I left off, I see that it’s because they don’t fit in this category. I didn’t have words, two weeks ago, for why they didn’t fit, but I felt it and I can explain it now. I guess I will have to make a whole other album for those, and the ones not yet finished. And by then there will be more.

I do want to return to the other stuff, the Zune and the (PRODUCT)RED stuff and Bono in general. I’ve learned a lot lately about things that had previously not occurred to me, and as soon as I can complete the album stuff there’s going to be room in the brainwaves for everything else. It’s not too far away, so hang in there.

October 14, 2006

a teepee on the banks of the yellowstone

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, folk, indie, music, recording — alimarcus @ 10:16 am

best parts so far:

my heart lies in a taxicab and in a sweet glass of rum

just another trapeze

and so now i cannot sleep

no one will know but you and me

but i’ve been walking for miles and miles and miles and miles

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