Music Notes October 2010

October 31, 2010 at 9:04 pm (Uncategorized)

And here’s this month’s musical things of interest to me:

1. Nick Kent – Apathy for the Devil.

I was too young for Kent’s glory days at the New musical Express, but this is almost as good. Kent’s account of the 70s. A massive ego to be sure, but with some amazing stories. If you read The Dark Stuff you’ll enjoy this one too.

2. Warpaint – The Fool

I hate to say, it’s one of the dumbest band names since the Ting Tings, but I do like the music. Moody, post punk. The feeling reminds me of Sigur Rós. I can’t exactly say why I like it, but I do. Check out the version of Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” they recorded for the Warchild Series

3. Bob Dylan – The Widmark Demos

Normally we judge a performer by the regular output. But with Dylan, we get an opportunity to judge him by the stuff he didn’t release. With the latest entry in the Bootleg Series, we get to hear demo versions of songs Dylan recorded on Freewheeling, and The Times they are-a Changing, plus a lot of stuff  that never made it to record (15 out of the 47 songs have never been released). Lovely

4. The Jim Jones Revue – Burn Down Your House

Rawk ‘n’ Roll in its purest form.  Sonics + Johnny Thunders + Little Richard + a whole lot more. Buy this album and them buy everything you can get your hands on.  

5. Emily Barker – “Nostalgia” (Theme from Wallander)

OK, I’m a sucker for British mystery stories, even though these ones are adaptations of Swedish author Henning Menkell’s. Kenneth Branaugh is outstanding – the best work he’;s done in years. But what grabs you is the haunting theme music. Barker’s an Australian folk singer. It’s perfect for the down beat series.

6. Tricky – Mixed-Race

The tragedy of having a perfect debut is that every subsequent work will be compared it it. Thus Tricky’s Maximquay tops his latest Mixed Race, but don’t fear this is still very listenable, and includes some cool guest spots (inc. Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream). December 12 at the Mod Club in Toronto.

7. Keith Richards – Life.

I’m not sure if that’s ironic or not. A book about Keith’s life. Now Keith has lived a pretty full life, but it’s also a mystery as to how he’s still got it when so many have fallen by the wayside. I suppose I’ll wait for the movie to come out.

8. Band of Joy –Band of Joy

I was never a Zeppelin fan. As a child of 77 I was obliged to hate them, but I later came to grant them a kind of grudging respect. They did what they did well. Now, Robert Plant, I both respect and admire. Mostly because he seems unafraid to take risks rather than just recycle Zeppelin’s greatest hits. The collaboration with Alison Krause was masterful, and this is pretty close. Well worth a listen if you’re a fan of the rootsy sound Plant is into. Hell, even if you’re not, give it a listen. It may convince you.

9. PJ Harvey –4 Track Demos

15 years ago I was taking a trip round the Cabot Trail with my friend Helen, and I popped this tape into the cassette player. We got through, maybe, one-and-a-half songs before she told me to turn it off. Yeah, Polly is a bit harrowing on this collection, but hell,  it’s worth it to hear these stripped down versions of “Rid of Me” and the rest.   

10. The Cribs – Ignore the Ignorant

The Cribs’ fourth album sees Johnny Marr join the lads, and what a joy it is. Not that the Cribs needed it, but Marr’s touch adds a little je ne sais quoi.

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Happy Halloween

October 31, 2010 at 8:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Halloween is my favourite festival. Sure, Christmas when I was a kid, but I’m long past that. Birthdays are long gone too. Father’s Day is nice, but Halloween has just so much going for it.
 
Now, please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. Well, not me, but Hellboy creator Mike Mignola surely is. So, here’s ….
 
Mike Mignola’s Top Ten Horror Picks!
 
mignola skull
 
-Bride of Frankenstein
-Curse of the Demon
-Black Sunday
-The Innocents
-The Haunting
-The Others
-The Legend of Hell House
-The Orphanage
-Jacob’s Ladder
-Angel Heart

 I’d add Carnival of Souls, The Shining, The Devil’s Backbone, and 30 Days Later (or is it 30 Days After? The zombie one, not the Sandra Bullock one) but we have some scary titles.

Have a happy and safe Halloween….

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Good Morning Mister Mayor

October 24, 2010 at 9:16 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve been trying to avoid election fever. No, no not the U.S. mid-term elections (although some of the comic gaffes are worth a chuckle), no I mean the Canadian municipal elections.

Yesterday, the phone rang and my son answered the phone. “Dad, it’s Slytheran” he said. While it’s true we have been reading the first Harry Potter book together, the re-imagining of Toronto mayoralty candidate George Smitherman as a member of the evil house of Hogwarts doesn’t seen too too inaccurate. Unfortunately, there’s more than a few that should be there.

A friend of mine recently posted about the importance of municipal election in reference to the then upcoming election in Calgary. Sorry G, got to disagree with you.

As that old ’68 grafitti has it, “It’s painful to submit to our bosses,; it’s even stupider to choose them.” (If that pithy maxim doesn’t convince you, there are plenty of good critiques against voting, but the bottom line is the despite the rhetoric, there is very little real difference between any of the candidates, and second they are all for the maintenance of a rotten system)

I have to admit though the thought of Rob Ford as the new Toronto mayor does fill me with despair. I’ll avoid the obvious cheap shot about Ford, but I can’t shake the feeling that Toronto is about to elect Chris Farley’s somewhat less funny brother. (Apparently a few others are not so thrilled either – a few weeks back University Avenue was littered with signs that proclaimed “Wife Beating Racist Drunk for Mayor”  a direct reference to some of Ford’s past indiscretions.

Nevertheless, Ford’s mantra of cutting waste seems to have caught on, to the extent that the other candidates, with the exception of Joe Pantelone, more or less adopted Ford’s platform arguing that they could do it better. It seems odd to me though, that Toronto has been so badly served by governments at the Federal and provincial levels arguing the same line as Ford that they would consider electing someone at the municipal level.

That said, I’m filled with despair by the other choices too. George Smitherman is a provincial cabinet minster (When I spell-checked this piece,  “monster” was suggested – maybe I should have left it?) perhaps best known for presiding over the e-health debacle. If he’s elected, it will be because people saw no other choice in opposition to Ford. Joe Pantelone, a somewhat bland former deputy mayor seems not to want to go beyond the legacy of  former golden boy David Miller. (aside from perhaps regretting the vehicle tax) . The other candidates Sarah Thompson and Rocco Rossi have laready fallen on their respective swords.

It’s my son’s 7th birthday on election day, and a new mayor from these candidates doesn’t seem like much of a gift.

———————————————————-

Anyway, have a chuckle at this piece from Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

Are you there, candidates? It’s me, Mark

MARK SCHATZKER 

To my favourite mayoral candidates:

Can you believe it’s already been a year? It feels like it’s been ten. And Monday – poof! – it all comes to an end. The press releases, debates, policy announcements and backpedalling are pretty much behind us now. At long last, it’s time to say farewell.

To my darling Sarah,

On paper you stank. You polled the lowest and you were the first to bow out. But you did something none of the other candidates managed to do: You walked away with dignity.

A year ago, no one had ever heard of Sarah Thomson. Now, everyone knows what you look like. Thanks to you, Torontonians learned to dream about subways again. For two weeks, at least.

But you know what I admire the most? Everyone bought the hardnosed businesswoman thing. People would say, “She ran the Women’s Post!” like it was something other than a niche/vanity publication that makes Chatelaine look like The Economist. Word on the street is that the Liberals and Conservatives are begging you to run. Federally! I’d take that over being mayor. My guess is the other four would, too. Well played, madam.

__

To little Joe with the big heart,

Do politicians have these enormous thermometers that they use to “take the temperature of the electorate” as they say? Because if they do, yours is broken.

What else could have given you the idea that this year, of all years, was the year to run as the union guy? Even your hero, David Miller, was smart enough to keep the union stuff hush-hush. He was coming in on the heels of the Lastman years – arguably the most right wing, corrupt, and asinine era in this city’s political history – and Miller still knew better than to mention the union stuff in public.

You are that rarest of animals, Joe – a politician who says what he believes. The voters may not like you – the unions are backing Smitherman. But a year from now, you’ll be sitting on the patio at The Dip and a municipal worker will walk by and give you a friendly nod. You won’t be mayor, but you’ll be able to live with yourself. Unless Ford squeaks out a win, of course, in which case that municipal employee will be out of a job.

__

Rocco,

Whoa. Rough landing, partner. You really put the “pain” in “campaign.”

I just have one question: What happened? Actually, don’t answer that. I think I know what happened. I think you got really, really, really, really bad advice. Because there you were at the beginning of the campaign being all sensible and sober, and no one was listening. And then suddenly you went insane. Let’s dig a tunnel under midtown! Let’s recall the mayor after two years! Who told you to do that? Who thought the “Bocce Balls” ads were a good idea? Who thought referencing a candidates genitalia was a winning strategy? Seriously, who?

__

Furious, curious, worrious, slurrious, injurious George,

Um…what did Dalton ever see in you? Is it your penmanship? Are you the life of the party on campaign road trips?

Because I don’t really see what you bring to the table, you know, politically speaking. I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with one thing you did well during this campaign and I got bupkis.

Did you know that roughly 90 per cent of your sentences do not have predicates? Did you know that every time you float a new idea, it sounds like you heard about it for the first time that morning, and you didn’t even let the person explaining it to you finish? You answer questions the way intoxicated people drive cars. You go too fast, then you veer, then you have trouble coming to a stop. Someone is going to get hurt.

__

My dear, dear Rob:

My name is Mark Schatzker and I am a Downtown Elite. I live in a renovated home in a gentrifying ethnic neighbourhood and more than half my friends work in “the arts.” I collect wine and I eat charcuterie (don’t ask). When I ride my bike, I give drivers the finger. I have, in the past, grown ironic facial hair.

But here’s the thing, Rob: I don’t hate you. The more I get to know you, in fact, the more I like you. And the reason is your gaffes. They’re endearing. That joint they found in your back pocket when you got that DUI in Florida? It tells me you know more about alternative lifestyles than most of my fellow elites believe. Trying to buy drugs for that gay junkie stalker guy? It was, in its own confused but well-meaning way, an acknowledgment of diversity. Some constituents need a bigger blue bin. This guy needed some Hillbilly H. You were there for him.

I love your whole football thing. You coach because you love the game and you love the kids that play it. I agree with you about the spend-happy bureaucrats at city hall. And I’m still pissed off about the sick bank.

But I also think this: You would make a terrible mayor.

___

All in all, candidates, I think this was the worst in campaign in memory, and likely the worst ever. Which is good news, because from here, it can only get better.

See you in four years.

———–

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Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan in Toronto – A Review

October 24, 2010 at 8:40 pm (Uncategorized)

I trudged down to Lee’s Palace on Wednesday night with fairly low expectations for this show. I was never a fan of Belle and Sebastian, and had only a passing interest in Screaming Trees. I bought Hawk on the strength of the reviews, and on a whim I bought a ticket for the show as well. However, when I listened to the record, I found I wasn’t exactly crazy about it. Not that I hated it, but it just didn’t really move me.

So, there I was.

Lee’s Palace is one of those strange venues. It holds about 500, but when it’s packed. it seems as if it’s twice the size. However, if it’s empty, the place seems like a cave. For a band on a mid-week show, it’s a risky proposition.

Willy Mason

The place was hardly a third full when opening act Willy Mason took the stage at about 9:20. And yet, something strange and wonderful happened. Within a song or two, Mason, singing alone, created a marvellous sense of intimacy. Even the chatter from the bar seems to add to the melancholy nature of his songs. After a half hour set, Mason left the stage to loud applause.

Ay 10:20, Isobel Campbell, dressed in white, took one side of the stage,  while Mark Lanegan, tall and decked out in black took the other side.

It’s an odd mix given the different musical backgrounds, and the result is a kind of psychedelic folk country-blues. At certain times the band leaned in one of those directions; at other times, another.  The band was largely silent to the audience until about the mid-way point, but then seemed to loosen up, and a momentum began to build too. Lanegan left the stage at one point to be replaced by Mason, who also sings on Hawk. When Lanegan returned, the band hit high gear. Unfortunately, I don’t know the names of most of the songs, but Campbell kept assuring the audience various songs were coming.

A blurry picture

The band played a generous 85 minute set following by a long encore for to an obviously adoring audience., and I’ll certainly admit, those songs sounded a lot better in concert.  Driving home after the show, Hawk sounded pretty good.

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Steve Albini on the music business

October 24, 2010 at 8:22 pm (Uncategorized)

In a reprint of an interview with Steve Albini I posted a few days back, I made mention on an article Albini wrote on the music business.

It’s a bit long, so here’s the link.  Special emphasis on the word business.

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Ari Up R.I.P.

October 21, 2010 at 11:59 pm (Uncategorized)

White German punk Rasta girl Ari Up passed away yesterday at the age of 48. A Note on John Lydon’s homepage said she had died from a serious illness.

When I was about 13, I remember reading a four-part special on punk in the Sun of all places. The second installment had a feature on the Clash, but little sections on some other bands. The Slits were there along with a picture of Ari Up. The article noted that because of their “unwashed appearance” they were frequently denied service and abused in the street. Ari did wear her underpants on the outside, but all in all fairly surreal.

If you get the chance, listen to the Slits Peel Session (available on the deluxe version of Cut). Raw, crazy. I prefer then to the later recordings, but maybe that’s just me. Cut is a great record though. The band deepened their affinity for dub: Recording with the Pop Group, cutting a marvellous version of “Man Next Door” and then dissolving into individual projects.

Ari Up played the Pride festival in Toronto a few years back. I missed the show,; something I deeply regret. 48 is far far too young to leave us.

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More on Atheism…and Glee

October 17, 2010 at 11:07 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve finally decided to stop watching Glee. The first episodes of the show were outstanding; simply the best network show in years. Then came the break, and when the show returned, it was different.

Many of the tunes were now simply re-enactments of existing songs rather than interpretations. The “tribute” editions which featured Madonna, Olivia Newton-John, Lady Gaga and latterly Britney Spears came off as hand-jobs for these performers (Yes, I’m aware of the irony of that statement considering all of those mentioned are female).

It was as if when the show started the network said, “Here, go do your thing,” but when it became successful, they became interested. As a result, the show became dull. It may still be better than much of what’s on, but it’s painful to watch now.

The last episode I watched dealt with religion. Kurt’s father has a stroke and a number of religious themed songs are preformed as atheists (Kurt and Sue) and theists (pretty much everyone else) deal with the situation through faith (or lack of).  Finn sings “Losing my religion” after his grilled cheese with an image of Jesus (Grilled Cheesus – probably the most daring moments in the show) disappoints. (If they had wanted to be really daring they might have tried XTC’s “Dear God” )

But here’s my whiney objection. The believers are shown as compassionate, tolerant, and warm, whereas the atheists are intolerant and close-minded. It’s almost as if having characters who argue there is no god must be shown to small-minded and bigoted (still, we have history on our side).  

And apparently, learning too. Interesting article which appeared in the New York Times a while back.

————————————–

Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Teresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.

The researchers said that the questionnaire was designed to represent a breadth of knowledge about religion, but was not intended to be regarded as a list of the most essential facts about the subject. Most of the questions were easy, but a few were difficult enough to discern which respondents were highly knowledgeable.

On questions about the Bible and Christianity, the groups that answered the most right were Mormons and white evangelical Protestants.

On questions about world religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, the groups that did the best were atheists, agnostics and Jews.

One finding that may grab the attention of policy makers is that most Americans wrongly believe that anything having to do with religion is prohibited in public schools.

An overwhelming 89 percent of respondents, asked whether public school teachers are permitted to lead a class in prayer, correctly answered no.

But fewer than one of four knew that a public school teacher is permitted “to read from the Bible as an example of literature.” And only about one third knew that a public school teacher is permitted to offer a class comparing the world’s religions.

The survey’s authors concluded that there was “widespread confusion” about “the line between teaching and preaching.”

Mr. Smith said the survey appeared to be the first comprehensive effort at assessing the basic religious knowledge of Americans, so it is impossible to tell whether they are more or less informed than in the past.

The phone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish in May and June. There were not enough Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu respondents to say how those groups ranked.

Clergy members who are concerned that their congregants know little about the essentials of their own faith will no doubt be appalled by some of these findings:

¶ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

¶ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

¶ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.

The question about Maimonides was the one that the fewest people answered correctly. But 51 percent knew that Joseph Smith was Mormon, and 82 percent knew that Mother Teresa was Roman Catholic.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 29, 2010

 

An article on Tuesday about a poll in which Americans fared poorly in answering questions about religion misspelled the name of a beatified Roman Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Prize winner. She was Mother Teresa, not Theresa.

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Steve Albini GQ interview

October 15, 2010 at 10:14 pm (Uncategorized)

Nirvana, Pixies, Superchunk, Shadowy Men, Robert Plant, the Stooges, PJ Harvey, Jon Spencer blues Explosion, Urge Overkill, Jesus Lizard and many many more: Steve Albini has worked with them all. Yeah, I thrilled to those old Big Black records, and more recently Shellac.  Compromising genius, or opininated arsehole? Either way, it’s a pretty intersting interview.

Steve Albini has a reputation for being a hard-ass. The mastermind engineer behind universe-altering neo-punk records like The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa and Nirvana’s In Utero, as well as lead singer/guitarist of seminal Chicago noise-rock band Shellac, has a bit of an independent streak. He loathes the mainstream music industry and encourages musicians to seize the means of production in order to escape parasitic hordes of publicists, agents, managers, and hangers-on. Shellac rarely plays live, making them the kind of rare, sought-after 45 of the touring world. The band members don’t make music their full-time job, preferring to keep their art separate from their income. Their most recent record, Excellent Italian Greyhound, was inspired by drummer Todd Trainer’s beloved pet Uffizi (they appeared together on the Animal Planet show Dogs 101) Albini, meanwhile, still gets up every day and goes to work at his Electrical Audio recording studio in Chicago, where any band with a couple thousand dollars can receive his golden analog blessing. Otherwise, the firebrand lives a quiet life in a leafy neighborhood with his wife and cats, indulging his wicked poker addiction. GQ caught up with him at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in upstate New York, in Kutsher’s Country Club’s once-regal piano bar, before he headed over to the Executive Card Suite to set up his nightly game of Texas Hold’em.

Can you talk about Shellac’s involvement with All Tomorrow’s Parties over the years, and how the festival has changed?

Very early on in Shellac’s existence we decided we weren’t going to play festivals because they were so unpleasant. And then Barry Hogan who runs ATP contacted us. For the first ATP, we just said “No, we don’t do festivals.” But then we got contacted again by Mogwai, who were curating the second All Tomorrow’s Parties. They convinced us that it would be at least worth an experiment to see if it was a different experience. And it was. They completely changed the festival game. Now the whole world has to operate under the knowledge that there are these cool, curated festivals where everyone is treated well and the experience is a generally pleasant one. Now there are a handful of similar, interesting curated festivals worldwide that are directly attributable to Barry Hogan and ATP doing it so well, showing that it can be profitable, and showing that it was actually good business to treat people well.

Shellac is known as a band that has a hard line regarding what kind of shows you will play, and how your music is commoditized. What other bands do you consider to be ethical?
Most people in their daily lives are pretty reasonable. A lot of people that end up being in bands give themselves license to act like assholes because they’re involved in music. If they didn’t see the music world as separate from the real world, most people would continue to behave honorably in their interactions with the music scene. I don’t think that what Shellac does is remarkable, really. I feel like it’s just normal. There’s a perversion of normal ethical standards, indulged and encouraged by a music industry that feels more important the more it is removed from regular life. For those of us in Shellac and the other bands we admire, being in a band is just part of normal, regular life. You don’t act like an asshole when you go to the barber. So why act like an asshole when you’re in a band?

What are your thoughts on bands like Chumbawamba, that once had ‘indie’ ethics but decided to take their political ideas into the mainstream by signing a major label?
I’m not really interested in participating in mainstream culture. Participating in the mainstream music business is, to me, like getting involved in a racket. There’s no way you can get involved in a racket and not someway be filthied by it. You’re another catalog item, another name on the list of people who are collaborating with the enemy. But by the same token I don’t know what circumstances every other band is in and what they feel forces their hand at some point. I know some bands feel like they have the choice between working with someone at the independent level who they think is inept, or working with someone in the mainstream—who may also be inept, but at the very least may give them some money. That’s the kind of choice I never want to have to make for myself. If I had been approached by a big record label when I was eighteen years old, after I had just made my first demo—that happens quite often now, bands get approached quite young—I have no doubt whatsoever I would have signed the first thing anybody waggled in front of my nose. I can’t fault someone who operates out of ignorance and gets involved with a corrupt industry. They literally don’t know any better. I can fault the people who put them in that position—agents, lawyers, music business professionals who put him in a position of signing away the next twenty years of his life. But the kid who’s in those circumstances, I can’t really cast any judgment.

What about bands like Sonic Youth, who signed to a major label with a full adult understanding of the choice they were making.
I don’t know the exact circumstances of Sonic Youth’s decision, so I’m not comfortable saying they did it wrong. But a lot of the things they were involved with as part of the mainstream were distasteful to me. And a lot of the things that happened as a direct result of their association with the mainstream music industry gave credibility to some of the nonsense notions that hover around the star-making machinery. A lot of that stuff was offensive to me and I saw it as a sellout and a corruption of a perfectly valid, well-oiled music scene. Sonic Youth chose to abandon it in order to become a modestly successful mainstream band—as opposed to being a quite successful independent band that could have used their resources and influence to extend that end of the culture. They chose to join the mainstream culture and become a foot soldier for that culture’s encroachment into my neck of the woods by acting as scouts. I thought it was crass and I thought it reflected poorly on them. I still consider them friends and their music has its own integrity, but that kind of behavior—I can’t say that I think it’s not embarrassing for them. I think they should be embarrassed about it.

How do you think music might be different today if Sonic Youth hadn’t brought all those bands—Bikini Kill, Pavement, Nirvana, to name a few—into the mainstream fold?
I think what they did was take a lot of people who didn’t have aspirations or ambitions and encouraged them to be part of the mainstream music industry. They validated the fleeting notions that these kids had that they might one day be rock stars. And then they participated in inducing a lot of them to make very stupid career moves. That was a period where the music scene got quite ugly—there were a lot of parasitic people involved like lawyers and managers. There were people who were making a living on the backs of bands, who were doing all the work. Had Sonic Youth not done what they did I don’t know what would have happened—the alternative history game is kind of silly. But I think it cheapened music quite a bit. It made music culture kind of empty and ugly and was generally a kind of bad influence.

You wrote an article in the early 1990s called “The Problem With Music” that explored parasitism of the music industry and the economic issues with the top-down model—Does that model even exist anymore, in this new era of digital downloads, iTunes, Pitchfork, and viral trends where bands have to shamelessly promote themselves online to get ahead?
This is a terrific time to be in a band. Every band has access to the entire world by default. I know quite a few bands that have been able to establish themselves internationally based on nothing other their web presence. It’s an incredible tool. It’s also revived the careers of a lot of bands that came before the Internet era and never had enough penetration to find their natural audience. But because the music survived, some people were interested in disseminating it for no other reason than because they like it. People put stuff on YouTube or torrent clients or whatever, not because they’re going to make money off of it, which is the only reason the mainstream industry would do something, but because they think it’s good. It’s a like a worldwide mix tape. An awful lot of bands that had no audience in their first incarnation were able to revive their careers and have a second lap. It’s so exceedingly rare that somebody gets more than one bite at an apple like that. I think it’s fantastic.

Is there a young artist with integrity who inspires you today?
I have an unusual perspective in that I make records every day for a living. I see a lot of bands on a weekly basis. I see little bits and pieces of behavior that are encouraging. There was a band that came into the studio a while back called Grandfather. They were an art rock band that organized the funding of their record through Kickstarter. They were really well rehearsed and came into the studio and knocked the record out in a couple of days. Because they didn’t have a record label or any promotion schedule to adhere to, they were able to get their record manufactured and distributed within a couple of months. That’s the kind of nimble, efficient behavior that was previously impossible when there was a corporate structure involved. It gives me confidence other bands will figure it out. The last time Shellac put out a record, we finished it in June 2006. It wasn’t actually in the stores until June of the following year. It took an entire calendar year for that record to inch its way through the production, manufacturing and distribution steps and get into the store. I’m impressed when I see bands taking advantage of these efficiencies that we’re allowed now. That’s something that gives me great confidence about the way bands are going to function in the future.

Are you an avid consumer of media?
Not avid. Funny cat videos on YouTube, that’s about it. I don’t really like movies. I don’t rate movies as an art form. If somebody asked me to describe our culture, I would fail.

What would be your dream band, performing a dream album, past present or future?
Seeing The Stooges play Fun House was pretty amazing. Seeing them play Raw Power was also great, but Fun House is a very special record for me. But there’s something about this whole recreating an album thing that I’m not that into. I feel like bands should be growing, living, functioning entities and to crystallize a band into a single album, and for that to be a touchstone—I understand it from a fan’s perspective but I also feel like it’s a little bit misleading in terms of the way bands actually function. Shellac was asked to do a recreation of our first album, but we’ve always been a band that improvised our sets. That’s critical to the way that we function on stage. Whatever the mood takes us on stage can vary from night to night with what you feel like playing. I feel like if we knew what we were going to be playing before we were playing it that would prevent us from having a really great show.

It’s the end of analog. Do you lament the era of palpable commodities that the Internet is replacing?
Well, the Internet has replaced radio. For the same reason that having a radio didn’t mean that you wouldn’t also have a record collection, having the Internet available doesn’t mean that you won’t also have a record collection. The scale of things has changed dramatically. The one thing that has survived intact has been vinyl record sales. There are vinyl reissue labels and labels that now do better business with their vinyl releases than they do with CD releases. Obviously the primary mode of music is going to be electronic, but people still want to have permanent evidence of their appreciation of a band. Hi-fi shops are doing great business selling record players. I don’t see the vinyl record disappearing in my lifetime.

You played an extended version of your song “The End of Radio” tonight. Can you talk about what that song is about?
That one changes over time. The original inspiration for it was the idea that at some point there won’t be radio anymore. Whether radio is supplanted by some kind of digital medium and it finally is no longer used for any other communication. Or maybe civilization will just run out and there won’t be anyone left to key a transmitter anymore, I don’t know. You hear pundits talking about the death of radio a lot, or the death of traditional media. But if you drive around, every spot on the dial has still got a radio station on it. And there’s still people acting like assholes on the radio all day, every day. In small towns and even in bigger cities, people can be celebrities through nothing but the radio. A disembodied voice can make someone famous. When radio came up as a new technology there was a huge run in the stock market on all the radio stocks. All these start-up radio companies just became huge. The parallels between that and the Internet are quite obvious. Everyone said that radio would kill live music and kill the existing music industry because people wouldn’t leave their houses because radio would bring the ballroom to them. It had exactly the opposite effect—it made people much more interested in music. The same thing happened with the Internet—people said access to music on the Internet was going to kill the music industry. What it killed was the record industry. The music industry—bands, concerts, things like that are doing great. The live concert experience is a valuable thing now.

Radio was once the darling of technology, and then radio becomes this technological orphan that’s no longer being actively considered. But radio is still being used. Radio is still broadcasting. Radio waves are still emanating out into space. If we are ever noticed by another civilization it will be probably through a radio broadcast of some kind. The nice thing about doing a song about the end of radio is that it allows you to talk about whatever you feel like talking about that pertains to radio at the moment. For example, when John Peel died, that closed a pretty important chapter of radio in England. The BBC is a miracle, but John Peel was one of the things that kept it human. A lot of people who I associate with radio are very, very old because they became famous during a period when radio was the new technology. Certain baseball announcers who have really fantastic grasp of the game and great style—like Vince Scully and Bob Uecker, who have a talent for making baseball over the radio a baseball experience rather than a radio experience. Then there are guys like Studs Terkel, who took everyday people and had them talk about their lives and made it like the most compelling radio in the world. All of those things, whenever we start that song, any subset of those things can be on my mind and those are the things we’ll talk about during that show.

Is there anyone who can fill John Peel’s shoes today as a cultural arbiter of music?
No. One of the things that made John Peel so valuable was that he had decades of archived material and sessions of bands that had played live and were only ever heard on the John Peel show. His work ethic was absolutely incredible. He made it a point of pride to listen to every record that anyone sent him. He would listen literally to dozens of records a day. He said something once that I thought was really profound: He said that no one would bother making a record and sending it to him if they thought it was shitty. Obviously, to the people making those records, they are important. If he doesn’t get it as a listener, if he didn’t like it in some way, that’s his fault, not the fault of the people who did something important to them. That’s a pretty amazing, humble insight for someone like him to have. A lot of radio professionals kind of feel like they know the game, they know what’s good. His way of looking at it was much more selfless: there was this culture of bands creating music and he was getting to audition some of it. Then he could spread it out to the rest of the world if it struck his fancy. Just because he didn’t like something didn’t mean it was bad. He was just deaf to it.

How would you describe your fashion?
I think fashion is repulsive. The whole idea that someone else can make clothing that is supposed to be in style and make other people look good is ridiculous. It sickens me to think that there is an industry that plays to the low self-esteem of the general public. I would like the fashion industry to collapse. I think it plays to the most superficial, most insecure parts of human nature. I hope GQ as a magazine fails. I hope that all of these people who make a living by looking pretty are eventually made destitute or forced to do something of substance. At least pornography has a function.

—Aaron Lake Smith

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Tea Party Blues

October 3, 2010 at 4:38 pm (Uncategorized)

Never mind today’s New York Times magazine article on Glenn Beck. The big news for me this week was a video clip making the rounds from rallies about tax day in the US

Now who’s that appearing at a Tea Party rally? Maureen Tucker.  Could it be the Maureen Tucker from the Velvet Underground? 

Is it Mo?  Well it sure looks and sounds like her. There she is very near the end of the clip complaining about the drift to “socialism” and that there’s no money left for the important things.

Now I know the Velvets were 40 years back, but you’d think a legacy of songs about S & M, heroin, amphetamines, sex changes, homosexuality and much much more would have some residual effect.

 There’s your coolness factor shot to hell. It’s never really a surprise to find out the people you admire are not always the people we hope them to be, but it’s often a disappointment.

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New Fall Magazines: Radical Anthropology and more…

October 2, 2010 at 4:40 pm (Uncategorized)

Ads for various e-book readers are everywhere, and I must admit to being mildly curious about them; However, I can’t spark enough interest to actually get one.

Call me old-fashioned, but the turning of pages is still attractive. And that extends to magazines as well.

The new Radical Anthropology is out. Number 4 has articles on Avatar, neanderthals and an interview with Chris Knight on Chomsky. One of my favourite magazines, it can be downloaded from their site here, but for old traditionalists I’ll soon have hard copies.

On a totally differnt topic, the new issues of Uncut and Mojo are well worth picking up, not just for the features on the Clash and McCartney, but also for the rather good CDs which accompany the issues. Uncut has a selection of tracks culled from Joe Strummer’s radio programme and Mojo has Let It Be as recorded by such artists as Beth Orton, Pete Molinari, Wilko Johnson and others. The free CDs are often hit and miss, but both of these are quite exceptional.

And in the upcoming department, a new Aufheben should be out soon, and a new Internationalist Perspective in a month or so.

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