Friday, March 25, 2005

Friday Babyblogging: Holiday Edition

With my big goth sister and her bitchin' black nail polish! Posted by Hello

NY Area Popsters take note!

Next Tuesday (March 29th), at The Continental, we'll be coming in to see Milton and the Devils Party. I've blogged about this band ad nauseum, I won't belabor the point here. (They've got mp3's at the site now, though, so you can hear of what I speak.) But they're fun and smart, a good show, and worth seeing. And there's no cover, so you have no excuse. (I'm talking to *you*, Steven. We'll pick you up if we have to. Remember, we know where you live.)

After that, I'm out of town the other direction, to the scintillating midwest to enlighten my colleagues about the filth inherent in Walt Disney, so things will be spotty in powerpop land for the next ten days or so. But I'll try to get back to Babyblog later today.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Elvis Declares the Industry Dead

Elvis Costello, that is.

From The Washington Post (free subscription required):

The Who declared that rock is dead, so long live rock. Elvis Costello named the murderer -- high-speed Internet.
Liverpool's second-most acerbic pop star isn't the first person to make this observation, but after nearly three decades of paying the rent on vinyl, tape and silicon, he is familiar enough with the way the music industry works to know when the vital signs are off. Costello, who made his remarks at the just-concluded South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas, said the end was nearer than many think.
"As soon as broadband is big enough, the record (retailing) business is over," Costello said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "They will have to change or die ... It's going to be about five minutes to the end. All bets are off." Costello also said that "music chains like Tower Records had 'let the spirit go out of it.'"


[T]he U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments next week about whether Internet music-swapping services like Grokster and Morpheus break the law simply by existing.

Music is changing. There's no doubt about that. The technology of digital music, of mp3 players and computers and broadband access, means that my music is your music and yours is mine, if we only want it to be so. I guess that's been true since the age of the cassette, the first easily reproducible technology most people had in their homes. But making a cassette for someone required the input of time, at least of the length of the cassette, and contact with the recipient (or his or her mailman). It meant mixing up music in your own mind. (Who can ever forget Alfred Molina's brilliant performance of the cokehead rant against the tyranny of the album in Boogie Nights? "Ricky Springfield! He's a friend of mine!") It meant sharing. Does anyone remember whether or not the industry tried to limit cassette technology? Now, of course, you can pass along a song instantaneously, permanently.

One of our favorite bloggers, NTodd, does digital security for a living. Here's what he said recently:
When I discuss broadband technology, the first thing I do is break out the iPod and play something like Hey Ya by Outkast (gets the blood pumping when you're talking about boring techno stuff). My students think it's just a time wasting thing at first, but as we discuss how MP3s changed the music industry, it starts to dawn on them that it isn't just a lark but that there is indeed a method to my madness. We talk about compression, bandwidth, business models, how all this can be a lesson to the movie industry, etc. I note that my relationship to music fundamentally changed when it became possible to fit my entire collection into a shirt pocket.

In the midst of the discussion I talk about (the lack of) encryption and how the inventors of the CD never imagined a time when harddrive space would be so cheap that one could store thousands of songs on a computer. I also observe that the reason CDs have the storage capacity that they do is because Sony wanted to be able to fit all of Beethoven's Ninth, which had required multiple vinyl platters before, onto a single disc.

Plus, he's an amazing photographer and a fun guy.

I don't do P2P; I'm paranoid about giving others access to my hard drive. But I frequently exchange music with others, some of whom I've never actually met. I started with a woman in Colorado who contacted me after I won a Shoes CD off EBay; we discovered a fair amount of common ground and started burning discs to send back and forth. My greatest current resource is an incredibly generous Texan whose musical tastes correspond so closely to my own it's a bit unsettling. Other friends from other blogs, musicians who send me unreleased and demo stuff--there's a lot of music in my life. Some of it is probably illegal, technically. This impedes my enjoyment not one whit.

[Worth noting: if I'm any indication, EBay and are probably not doing the industry any good, either.]

The industry claims to be defending the rights of artists, but we know artists are fucked roundly by record companies, charged back for every little thing. (e.g., XTC's fight with Geffen) If artists are covertly smiling over the damage digitization has wreaked upon the big record companies, one can't really blame them. Big record companies are no longer necessary for wide distribution: we've got iTunes. Artists can find their fans online; fans can find artists they like the same way. Is this a positive development? I don't know. I think so, but I might be missing something. Thoughts?

UPDATE: Interesting set of reflections here.
Recent developments in technology have made an amazing amount of legal, illegal, and questionable activities possible for music fans. As always, the new technology has been liberating to some, frightening to others, and confusing to nearly all. As the music industry, consumers, lawyers, and just about everyone else grapple with the new abilities to copy, send, and work with music, record labels are putting out an increasing number of CDs containing technology to limit access to the music. Amid the lawsuits, piracy, and debate, PopMatters thought it was time to chime in. Here we present views from an analytical specialist, a frustrated writer/consumer, and a pissed-off whore.

UPDATE 2 (3/25): I got my iPod back! Yay!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Precursors: Blue Ash

In the house of power pop, you can pick two places to enter: 1965 or 1973. This is not to say that these two dates are mutually exclusive, or that they exist off a timeline. But the aesthetic was born, in a small way, in the sixties, became briefly dominant, but then was swept up in psychedelia. (Acid, I would argue, is a prog rock drug, not a pop drug. Feel free to discuss this utterly subjective, admittedly ill-informed assertion.)

By the early/mid 70's, pop was defining itself as a genre running counter to the dominant forces of the day: dinosaur rock (your ELP, Yes, and similar) and the nascent disco scene, which swept everything else out of its path for a good five years.

But there were standard-bearers. The Raspberries, for one. Big Star, for another. Badfinger (though arguably, they're more of a bridge back to the 60's). Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour (bridging the gap to the future, this time). And Blue Ash.

Like their fellow double-monosyllable Ohio B-band Big Star, Blue Ash were critically acclaimed but didn't quite get the sales one might have expected. Except for a few small radio hits, they went largely ignored on a commercial level. That, to put it not too delicately, sucks, because they were a great band.

Pop Culture Press's Kent H. Benjamin sat down and talked to Frank Secich over last summer about the band's history, the recently released Around Again (a wide-ranging double CD of classic Blue Ash tunes, some never before released), and the band's current reformation.
PCP: Unlike most power pop bands, Blue Ash had a really tough instrumental sound, very similar to what The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Faces, and the Stones sounded like live at the time, not at all like bands played in the '60s, even though you chose to play '60s style 3-minute pop songs using that '70s big rock sound.

FS: Well, you know we were a three piece band with a singer; Jim (Kendzor) didn't play much guitar live, so we all played a lot to make the sound bigger live. So I played a lot of bass, Bill (Bartolin) played a lot of lead guitar, and Dave (Evans) played the Keith Moon-style drums, we did all that to deliberately make the sound 'bigger' live. I've switched to rhythm guitar now, so the sound is actually much better, I think, than it was then, now that we have two guitars live. We have an old friend, Bobby Darden play bass, we have all the original members, plus TWO original drummers. All four original members sing, so we have 4-part harmonies. I thought the hardest thing to get back would be the singing, but a lot of us have quit smoking, so we actually sing better than we used to. I have an extra note in my range now (laughing). We're just nailin' everything, you know?!

Secich also notes that he was in conversation with Greg Shaw at that time about their new work: no word on what's happened to that project since Shaw's untimely death.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Vintage Neil Finn Interview

One of the coolest things about being a blogger is that you get to make contact with all sorts of interesting souls, sometimes finding surprising convergences with others you've never met, or may never have met otherwise.

Gardner Writes is a blog by a fellow English professor from Virginia. I happened across his work because we share a mutual admiration for the rock critic Steve Simels (whose 1985 book, Gender Chameleons, a study of rock androgyny, is my current bedside reading--though I must confess I didn't pay $200 for it). From there I happened upon Gardner's all-night family podcast of Paradise Lost (my own podcast plans are still stewing, but I need to do more research into rights and ramifications--thanks for all your input on this!). Obviously, we were simpatico, and so I boldly made contact.

Most fortuitously, Gardner is also a power pop fan. A former DJ and obvious technology geek, he's combined these qualities and put up the first two parts of his 1986 interview with Neil Finn of Split Enz and Crowded House on his blog. Part One is here, and Part Two is here. Gardner reports that Part Three is forthcoming. This is a podcast, but as long as your computer has speakers, you don't need an iPod to listen--just play it like a regular audio file. (It's a good thing, too, as my little soldier is in hospital right now due to an unfortunate file error.)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Friday Babyblogging

The intelligence is in the eyes. Ignore the slack jaw and lolling tongue. Posted by Hello

Say It Ain't So, Joey!

Okay, I know I'm old, but this is getting out of hand. Joey and DeeDee Ramone are dead, Joe Strummer is dead, (Shane McGowan still, as far as I know, improbably alive) and now this.

CBGB's, with its familiar white awning, holds a special place in the city's music history. It was here that the Ramones, the Talking Heads and Blondie created the punk scene for small crowds that paid a $1 cover charge.

"CBGB's allowed bands - original bands, no less - the freedom to go and play and do whatever they pleased,'' recalls Tommy Ramone. "It was a good fit.''

Rosenblatt [Muzzy Rosenblatt, director of the Bowert Residents' Committee] is aware of the club's legacy. He and his future wife shared their first kiss inside the club, although he's quick to add that nostalgia won't keep its doors open.

"I will not subsidize CBGB's at the expense of the homeless,'' Rosenblatt said. "I can't allow my own sentimentality to impede our ability to serve homeless people.''

Well, it seems like it might be possible to help homeless people and save CB's at the same time. Hell, I know nothing about this sort of thing, and a whole bunch of plans leapt into my head immediately. Plenty of CB's alumni are flush, and old punk fans have lots of scratch. This is not to mention the current punk revival--I'm sure Green Day could pony up a bit. Anyway, you can help here. {A word of warning from your helpful blogmistress: this is Hilly Kristal's version of how to help, and looks a lot like he wants people to just harass the Bowery Residents' Committee. That seems like a dumb idea to me, especially since, as Kristal notes, this is now in the hands of a judge. If you want to contact them, I recommend keeping it short and polite.}

Also, in the sidebar at the AOL article is a poll: "What do you think of punk rock: Turn it up! or Turn it off!" "Turn it up!" is winning, but not decisively. C'mon guys... we so rarely get to freep a poll here. Let's have some fun! Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I don't think I'm biased....

...but I was delighted to find this video online. I blogged about Steve Lawrenson's record, Every Summer, a few weeks ago. As I noted, this is a really good record. If you have warmth in your heart for the Move/ELO sort of pop, or for psychedelia, it's definitely up your alley, and can be ordered here.

But you should also check out the video for Lawrenson's moody, contemplative Town. If the link doesn't take you straight to the page, go to Our Work and then Video Vault (but I think it will work). I particularly like the smeary/prismatic quality of a lot of the shots (and for my non-local readers, enjoy the scenery and architecture of our area, including my personal fave, the Starucca Viaduct). I think you may need Windows Media Player to see it--that's what opened for me, anyway.

I think Lawrenson is just terrific, a really talented guy. He played IPO in Nashville last week, and will play the Dewey Beach Pop Festival in May. The videographer is a young man also of my acquaintance, whose talent in this regard was unknown to me.

Don't end it too early... the video interpretation of psychedelic backtracking is great!

Monday, March 14, 2005


Saw Motorhead last night.

Not pop.

Wow. Deborah Tannen has an essay in which she states that women's clothing always announces social position: there is no "neutral" female outfit the way, say, a dark blue suit is a neutral male outfit. I like Tannen, but she's wrong about this one. Here at the metal show, there were endless varieties of men, but very few of women. Hot metal chick, fat metal chick, vaguely bemused civilian (me)--that's about it. But the men came in various shades and subtleties, it seemed to me.

To clarify; I live in a small city. A band like Motorhead coming to town is a Very Big Deal. And indeed it was. Everyone came out, pretty much. The club, our former Chuck E. Cheese, was packed. And not just with metal heads (although primarily with metalheads, admittedly). An anthropolgical survey, in no particular order, of the crowd.

*There were multiple Andy Partridges. Somewhat pasty, bespectacled, sporting driving caps. Often doughy.

*Bikers, often with genuinely horrendous teeth. Hippies of all shapes and sizes.

*Punks. My favorite was a guy who had to be over 40, with hair uncannily like the Flock of Seagulls guy's. Differences? Jet black. And everything EXCEPT the wings was shaved.

*Many shaved men generally, in fact. One drunk guy near us kept stroking his own head.

*Lots of people with lots of tattoos.

*The really, really drunk guy, some vague cross between Kurt Cobain and The Onion's Jim Anchower. Flannel, stocking cap.

*Many guys--including a friend of ours--with Stonewall Jackson's facial hair. Our friend happens to be a Virginian, but that could hardly have been true for the three or four others I saw, one in an engineer's cap!

*Thers and I were shamed by the revelation of the weakness of our bond. How do we know? We clearly love each other less than the heavily inked couple right in front of us who spent the evening with their hands in each other's back pockets. This is my definition of love, owing its genesis to roller skating arenas of the late 1970's, in which this pose was often featured while skating, announcing couplehood to the assembled masses.

I leave out all mention of the music, though of course former punk rockers Corrosion of Conformity (the opening act) were as loud as one might have hoped, and Lemmy's bald spot now shines like a beacon of hope.

And Billy Idol comes next month!!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Babyblogging Hat Trick!

Shots from our recent trip to the NYC Bloggers' Dinner. On Broadway (and 96th, I think). Posted by Hello

Admit it: this is cool. For more on our thrilling trip to the AMNH, click herePosted by Hello

Big city baby! Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Toying with the Idea....

Of possibly doing a one-hour podcast, once a week. I have a mic and lots (LOTS) of mp3s. I've been reading about how they work, looking at other people's. I found one this morning with selections from someone's (complete, overnight) reading of Paradise Lost. Pretty nifty. So people obviously do all kinds of stuff. How hard can it be? I wonder if I could post it here? Does anyone know anything about rights? This is fair use, isn't it? God knows I'm not trying to earn money off it.

Whaddya think? Yea or Nay?

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Good Stuff

Sometimes you miss it, sometimes you don't.

Had a lovely time at the NYC Blogger's Dinner on Saturday, meeting the ebullient NTodd in person and putting faces to lots of names I knew. I won't give a full report here, because I don't have to. Elayne and NTodd (our generous and perky host), watertiger and Leslie are on top of that. (If you look carefully in one of Elayne's pics, your humble narrator is there. Wish I'd been smart, like steve simels, an put up my hands.)

Meanwhile, I go to bed early one night--one night, I swear--and miss this excellent thread at Eschaton.
Atrios asks for: Bands Which Suck But You Love Anyway

I don't mean a couple boy band tracks you groove to guiltily at the gym. I mean, a band whose entire catalog is sitting on your shelf and you eagerly wait their next release but about which you are embarrassed...

And I missed it. Full props to my divine friend watertiger, however. First comment posted: "Where the hell is NYMary?"

To be fair, my participation in such a conversation would be likely to descend quickly: I've got a lot of bands whose whole catalogs I own, but hell, if I was embarrassed, I wouldn't have this blog, now would I? I have all of Shoes and 20/20, for example (including Ron Flynt & the Bluehearts and his recent solo album, which I mean to blog about shortly), but there's no shame in that for me. We have startling amounts of GBV (and Pollard solo, and Lexo and the Leapers, and Go Down Snowball), Superchunk, Red Kross, and XTC. But no shame, not really. I was amazed to see what folks are ashamed of: Chumbawamba? I love those guys! Perhaps I have a lower shame threshold than most, but there weren't a lot of Michael Bolton confessions--even geeks have their limits.

But I should've been there. Read the thread for great entertainment.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Friday Babyblogging

Dig that Baby Stewie onesie! It reads: "I come bearing a gift. I'll give you a hint: it's in my diaper, and it's not a toaster." Posted by Hello

Wherefore England?

Reader V. notes that bands that were a flash in the pan here often had long and rewarding careers in the British Isles. Very true. I remember reading Trainspotting and glancing over a reference to hearing Clare Grogan on the radio. "Wha'!?!" I said. "Clare Grogan! The model for my adolescent womanhood? No freaking way!" But yes, Ms. Grogan, in addition to her acting (Gregory's Girl, in which she was all but invisible behind bangs and a beret) and singing (Altered Images, including the ubiquitous "Happy Birthday"), went on to a solo singing career. This warms my heart.

But the British music scene is different, for a number of reasons. For one, it seems a bit more discrete than the American scene: more divided into camps with specific class and political distinctions. And what passes as a brief fad here goes to England and stays. To wit: not a lot of teddy boys in America, with the exception of the cook at Danny's Diner here in Binghamton, and an anthropologically interesting fellow I met once in the darkest recesses of Queens (Ozone Park, possibly?) who assured us that he had once owned a car "as shiny as a nigger's ass." Huh. But even bikers aren't greasers anymore.

For another, it seems easier for new music to make a big splash there, perhaps because of the smaller market. One true-believer DJ can make a career (eg, John Peel and the Undertones). The role of nationalized media may have some effect, as well.

Discuss. Disagree. Enlighten.

The MTV Effect

Okay, on the last thread, someone raised the issue of MTV. I think I have a slightly different perspective on this, so let me start there. First, my comment from the bottom of the thread:
Well, I have to say that I have a generally more favorable impression of MTV, which I take from being born in the hinterlands as opposed to the metropole. Dunno about anyone else here, but refinnej, eli, and thers are all city kids, and so didn't have MTV until 84 or 85, at which point yes, it sucked. But from 1981-84, there was an amazing amount of new and experimental music on MYV, things I still have trouble finding on CD. Slow Children, Tenpole Tudor, weird stuff like Total Coelo--there was a lot on early MTV that never made it to radio.

Now, Thers assures me that the late entry of MTV into the lives of NYC dwellers was a mob thing: I honestly have no idea. But I have a general sense that, in those early days, MTV had no idea what they had, what they were doing, what its effect would be. They were just plowing into a new technology with little thought. And they played the videos they had, which tended to be sort of edgy.

Part of this might be an American thing: European TV had been showing videos for a couple of years, and so the majority of videos were either by foreign artists (British supergroup Asia made videos that were unthinkably complex for the time) or by American artists trying to break into that market. In the states, there were a few late night weekend shows which played videos, and I think the show "Fridays" did, too. So the video world in those early days was skewed toward either the foreign or the experimental.

And record companies actively discouraged established artists from making videos. In a recent interview, Jeff Murphy of Shoes talked about their experience with early videos:

JM: We shot four videos in late 1979 for the European market (MTV was still two years away): "Too Late," "Tomorrow Night," "Cruel You" and "In My Arms Again" and they were some of the earliest videos played on MTV. At the time, some of the VJs actually wore Shoes T-shirts on the air! VH-1 still plays them from time to time, but by today's standards they look very primitive, being shot on videotape instead of film in a live performance format. We shot all four in one day. As MTV asked us for additional videos two years later, Elektra refused saying MTV was 'a flash in the pan' and 'no big deal' (They actually owned it, as MTV was a WEA/AmEx creation). That proved to be a fatal mistake.

If the people who owned MTV were telling established artists not to bother, and refusing to fund the video process, it's no wonder that what made it to the airwaves was the weird and quirky. By the mid-80's, record companies had tipped wise, but by that time the indie scene was already cranking up. MTV and the labels formed a pretty solid seal for a number of years--the years my commenters are complaining about, and justly.

Thre's a pretty decent timeline here.

Obviously, lots to think about.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Historical Perspective, part 1

I've been poking around, acquiring primary source materials for my book research. Hell, I'll end up having to change my handle to PPPDA: The Power Pop Primary Documents Archive.

In fact, having been born a packrat, I actually own a great deal of primary source material from the pop press of the late 70's, though usually in the TeenBeat milieu, admittedly. (Tiger Beat, 16, and Bananas were also favored reading, but cut me some slack; I was a little kid.

But recently, I've been trying to get my hands on vintage issues of Bomp! and other magazines from the period. This selection, however, comes from the Contemporary Music Almanac 1980/81, written by Ronald Zalkind, Published by Schirmer Books in 1980.

The book is mostly a reference book (helpfully reminding me that I share a birthday with Glenn Frey, a fact I'd blacked out, as Sally Field and John Philip Sousa tend to consume the birthday-sharing part of my brain). Sections include: a Who's Who of Musical Artists, a Directory of Record Companies and Hot DeeJays, a section on rock travel (necessary information if you're on the road in, say, Detroit, including local drinking ages, a guide to local marijuana laws, and a VD hotline), that sort of thing.

It also includes a long chapter on New Wave Music, a sort of on-the-ground analysis of the movement.
What the new wave amounted to, in brief, was a violent short-circuiting of the normally slow process involved in bringing new groups and new music to the record-buying public. In place of the long and ardurous trek from garage band to album deal, the new wave created instant records, by groups that were new enough to be fresh, innovative, and unencumbered by the usual commercial considerations required to make it in the music business. By making the young groups appear to be an asset to the record companies, the new wave shifted the focus of the industry away from the older, stagnant performers and towards the radically different groups, sporting a new look, and playing a music that captured all the missing excitement of the unsophisticated early days of rock. The new wave broke all the establishes rules of the rock world, created a whole flock of new ways of working, and brought to the fore an amazing assortment of people and ideas that brought rock 'n' roll out of its doldrums. In England, after some initial resistance and problems, the movement proved thoroughly successful, and was ultimately adopted and institutionalized by the very forces it sought to evade. In a sense, the idealism of new wave was lost as its commercial aspects took hold, but the resulting changes brought about more than justify whatever sense of failure there might have been.

Now, there are obviously some generic distinctions here. Power pop was coined as a "softer" term for punk, so initially it was kind of a marketing term, like, well, "Greenland," I guess. But then new wave came in to replace power pop, presumably distancing it from punk one more degree. (Worth noting, in the excellent film SLC Punk!, these various tribal distinctions are noted, and our protagonist calls new wavers "the new hippies.") Synthesizers, as a poster noted below, probably also influenced this transition.

I'll be ruminating a lot on these various distinctions over the coming weeks: help me out!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Snow Dayblogging!

The bucolic splendor and truncated trees of Chez Thersites. I'm not NTodd or Eli, alas. Posted by Hello