Monday, June 10, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life. Really.

You know, now that I'm officially older than dirt, I have to admit that I have moments -- I would call them dark nights of the soul if I actually HAD a soul; in truth, they're more like when you have to change a light bulb -- where I think, well, maybe I SHOULD have gone to law school like my parents wanted. Rather than spending the bulk of my adult life writing about something as frivolous and unimportant as rock 'n' roll (let alone trying to play it).

I mean, I probably would have made a few more bucks than I currently have stashed. And when I was at parties, and people asked what I did for a living, they might not have laughed quite so hard when I wasn't looking.

Ah well. As Crow T. Robot said when he saw a swamp bird on MST3K's version of Revenge of the Creature -- "Egrets. I've had a few."

But then -- a couple of weeks ago, CD Baby alerted me to the fact that a total stranger had purchased a physical copy of the Floor Models album I compiled last year. So I waited a few days, so as not to give the guy the impression that I was stalking him, and then e-mailed him to ask how he had heard about the CD.

And I received this quite astonishing reply, which its sender has graciously given me permission to reprint.

Dear Steve,

Short answer: I read about the Floor Models on your blog, listened on CD Baby, and bought.

Long, potentially heartwarming answer (and I say that as a warning, not as a selling point):

The story begins in the mid-70s, when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and dad decided I was responsible enough to operate his stereo system (old Gerrard 30-pound turntable and Harmon Kardon tube amp which, circa midway-side-B, had heated up to egg-frying temperatures). He had about a dozen albums, bought in the early 60s, the usual light fare: Herb Alpert, Trini Lopez, Mantovanni. Every so often a kind-hearted neighbor would loan us an album, or I would get one for my birthday, or cut a single off of the back of a cereal box. I loved (and still love) them all, and wore them out listening.

Fast forward a couple of years, and my brother had introduced me to a few more-recent bands: AC/DC, Kiss, Black Sabbath. I liked them, too, but one day while listening to a left-of-the-dial radio station, I heard a song that sounded completely different: alive and ragged and beautiful. It made me want to stand up and do something. I could barely remember anything about it except that I wanted to hear more, and that the chorus said something about "death" and "glory". It became my quest to figure out who that was; my brother had no idea.

Then, one day, we went to the library and I wandered into a previously-ignored part of the building, a walled-in-glass area that turned out to contain a selection of albums. They had records at the library! I picked out a few, based solely on whether I had heard of the artist, and/or whether it had an interesting cover. I struck out with that first batch: some generic 70s Poco-esque junk and Christian-era Dylan. On my next visit, I asked the librarian if she could recommend some albums. She briefly discussed my interests, helped me pick out a few, and then directed me to the magazine rack: Stereo Review, she said, might give me some ideas.

I remember sitting there for two hours that seemed like five minutes. People actually wrote about rock music? Intelligently? I read literally dozens (hundreds?) of yours and Noel Coppage's brief reviews, and found a few artists you liked in the library. One the next trip to Tower Records, I picked up London Calling, to the astonishment of my bland-metal-monogamizing friends. How dare I opt for punk over Aerosmith? That album was not what I expected: I thought it would all be "Death or Glory", and "Clampdown" but there was a lot of "Lost In The Supermarket" and "Spanish Bombs". And the bleeping hilarious "Koka Kola", which won me over for good.

Later record store excursions got me some Tonio K (for which purchase I received a rare you-don't-completely-suck compliment from the greasy/awesome Record Store Guy), some good Dylan (Infidels, I think), later on some Smithereens, and the list could go on (and on). I loved just about everything you liked. As I listened more, and scrounged some back issues from a larger district library, I grew to understand, deeply in my soul, that when it comes to music, the Unwritten Laws of Simels are indeed true:

1) Energy always trumps style.
2) Short is almost always better than long.
3) Guitar + bass + drum + singer = win; anything extra is at least as likely to detract as to improve any given rock song.

So this is far too long already, but let me sum it up thusly: I submit that you, Steve Simels, have contributed more to my general happiness than anyone outside of my family members and a few teachers/mentors. My enjoyment of music has made the good times better: one of my happiest memories is coming home after making a successful attempt to "get down" with the long-coveted C*******a, and finding a box of Columbia House records sitting on my bed (thanks, mom!) and listening all night while mentally revisiting that lovely evening. Even more importantly, music has sustained me through terrible times (divorce, deployment, family health problems). And it has provided a foundation for a great relationship with my three high-school/college-age girls, all of whom live with me full time. And I, very honestly, owe much of that to you.

So, yes, when I found out Steve Simels played in an actual band that played actual music, and had released an actual CD, I bought that sucker. And (bonus!) I really like it.

So, thank you, Mr. Simels.

Your humble student/servant,

Erik Rupard

I'd be lying if I told you I didn't choke up a little bit by the end there. Other than that, all I can say is if I had known, back in the day, that I was going to actually impact somebody's life in any way, I would have tried to write a little better.

In any case, Erik -- I thank you. Truly, madly, deeply.


Marcellina said...

You have made a difference in people's lives. What a great thing to have heard! Very touching letter, every one of us probably owes a few of them to certain people who've shaped our lives. Thanks for sharing yours.

buzzbabyjesus said...

In 1974, my best friend was charged with researching and choosing the components for the family stereo. They'd remodeled and got rid of the console and were ready to get modern. Scott's meticulous when it comes to researching gear. Recently when I bought a camera, I asked him if he had any thoughts on which direction I should pursue. He did, and he was right. Back then I had a cheap component set I thought was great. His research included a subscription to Stereo Review. I was soon hooked, and followed suit. We haunted Stereo showrooms and drooled over the possibilities. I wanted a real system so bad I even got a job at Marie Callenders as a busboy, which I hated so much that when I broke my elbow skateboarding my first thought was, "I don't have to go to work today". Anyway we found this writer we liked named Steve Simels. I subscribed to the magazine for about 6 years, and it profoundly affected my musical taste. A few years ago I saw that ssimels commented on B.J. Wilson's drumming on another blog, Willard's I think, so I wrote him to find out if he was the same guy I'd read so long ago. He was, and I've been here ever since. Of course I informed Scott that I was corresponding with THE Steve Simels.

vanwoert said...

a Stereo Review piece you wrote titled "My Back Pages" became my Rosetta stone for record buying for years.

Billy B said...

Nice. You know what I think about your reviews...

Sal Nunziato said...

That even choked me up a little. Bravo, my friend.

Gummo said...

Beautiful, and well deserved.

But I'm afraid your beret will no longer fit on your noggin.


FD13NYC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FD13NYC said...

Wow! That is really something, very nice.

Alzo said...

They say everyone who saw the VU started a band. I loved Stereo Review and my fave article was 'Bowie and Hoople and Reed.' From there, I went on to be my HS paper's rock critic and later on, 10 years in punk bands. Never forget that the best music grabs you and electrifies. Thank you, Steve.

Blue Ash Fan said...

I'm not quite older than dirt, but am certainly getting there. I've been reading record reviews religiously (how's that for alliteration?) for over 40 years. And there's no other review I consider as memorable as your take on "Life in the Foodchain." It sent me out to the somewhat inadequate small town record stores of my hometown in search of this obscure gem. One of the great moments of my musical education, really. Although, clearly, I got nothin' on Erik.

Jai Guru Dave said...

If only one of these guys would REALLY show their gratitude by inventing a cure for hair loss!

Mark said...

I AM older than dirt, and older than you, Steve, and like Erik, enjoyed your SR reviews so much that I read them first, much like today I go to the Obituary column first in THE ECONOMIST.

Not for the same reasons, of course.

And because I have enjoyed your writings in the past and your PowerPop entries on a near-daily basis, I too enjoyed reading Erik's truly wonderful letter to you. I feel the same way.

Because I read your reviews and analyzed your approach to left-of-center rock music, I too succeeded in getting a piece in STEREO REVIEW on a one of the greatest overlooked rock artists of all time, and one still performing week-in and week-out.

Oh. Sorry. It WAS you. But the magazine was HIGH FIDELITY.

Still, Rupard's letter was a real tribute.

Mark said...

I apologize, Steve. You ARE older than I am. But I still meant what I wrote about looking forward to reading that which you have to say.

By the way, what do you think about THE NEW LIFE by Girls Names?

Ken J Xenozar said...

Frame that sucker!
I really like those rules.

JM Gray said...

As others have commented, this story rings very familiar. I had been an avid Stereo Review reader for a few years- but always focusing on equipment. More as a lark than anything, I picked up Tonio K's "Life in the Foodchain" as I could not believe any record would be a good as you scribed. Well, it was and I went on to be a devout follower of your recommendations (and lifelong Tonio K. fan-“Notes from the Lost Civilization” continues to pull at my love of music). Had you not seen his genius in the making (as well as others), I never would have found it.Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

I also was a reader of Stereo Review in the '70's and remember you being the only reviewer in that magazine that I would buy a record based on your opinion. They had a reviewer (peter reilly? or something like that) that for some unknown reason always would be the reviewer of Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry albums and it was obvious he wasn't a fan. When Roxy Music released Siren, you were the reviewer and you made it the pick of the month. That's when I knew you were alright....well that and your review of Tonio K :)

Mrs. Peel, we said...

Time for that damn book.

Dave said...

Erik's letter also confirms something I've always felt. Although it's much easier to write a slam than an ode, when in doubt, we should spend more time writing about stuff we love than stuff we detest. You can admire the wit of a critic-assassin, it doesn't help you find great music. You've always been good at writing about why you love music, Steve, and you do it with humor and intelligence.

Gary...not gay. said...

Too gay.

cthulhu said...

Agree with pretty much everything that Erik said. I started reading SR in '77 or so as a teenager, just as I was starting to really get into the Who; the vast majority of the music I bought in the next several years (the Who, Richard Thompson, Tonio K, Warren Zevon, and even stuff like the Fabulous Poodles) came from the reviews by you (primarily), Noel Coppage, Joel Vance, and a couple of others. But probably yours more than the others. I was very happy a few years ago to find this blog, as I had been missing your writing on music for a number of years. Thanks for being here, Steve.